“What?!” I say. I had no idea she even knew the phrase “F-word.” When, I ask her, did this happen?
“Last night,” she tells me. “Max locked himself in your bedroom and Daddy said that word and then he said Fruit!’”
The previous evening, I’d been out at a work event and my husband put the kids to bed. Now I’m finding out what went down. I actually don’t mind tattle-telling when it’s about Daddy. Who evidently thinks that when you say “Fu*k” and you pretend you said “Fruit,” it’s gonna fool a 7-year-old who is already wise beyond her years.
My husband and I are generally not big cursers; we let the occasional expletive fly during moments of crisis or extreme frustration, and we try our best not to say them around the kids. But, given that we’re human parents, sometimes they slip out.
When the kids were younger, we’d get away with nonsense damage control:
“Duck! I said duck!”
“Sit! I said sit!”
“Mother trucker! I said mother trucker!” (OK, we never actually said that one around the kids, but that’s how we would have tried to cover it up.)
As the kids have gotten older, though, it’s gotten harder to make like they didn’t just hear what they heard. I am quite sure my daughter’s been mulling over curse words with her school friends, same thing I did at her age. I’m figuring that’s how she knew it’s called the “F-word.”
I learned all the good curse words at school; my parents were of the old-fashioned variety and they never said them. Then my sister and I started saying “Shit!” At first, Mom would charge us a quarter whenever we said it, which seemed like a small price to pay for the satisfaction of uttering it. And then, my sweet mom picked it up. I don’t think I’ve ever been more shocked than the day I heard her exclaim, “Shit! I burned the meatloaf!” We’d corrupted her. I felt a little guilty.
I believe there are far worse words than curses in this world, particularly racial slurs and any words that demean people. My son, Max, has special needs, and his sister knows full well that I think “retard” is an awful, awful word. Still, I don’t want my kid going around dropping the F-bomb. And so I tell her,
“Honey, sometimes we say curse words when we’re mad and it’s much better to say I’m so mad!’ or even ARRRGH!’ Daddy lost his cool.”
“Daddy’s not cool?” she asks.
“No, I meant Daddy just lost control of his feelings. Nobody’s perfect, he was mad! But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to say.”
She ponders that. “OK,” she says, and I consider it a good sign that she did not respond “Fu*k that!’
Caught up in the morning whirlwind, I don’t get to talk till my husband later. “So, I hear you said the F-word last night,” I say. He looks surprised. “It was on the evening news!” I add, and we laugh. I spare him the don’t-do-that conversation because he knows he shouldn’t, same way I know I shouldn’t.
“If it happens again, I think you should tell her you made a mistake,” I say. “It’s not going to work to just ignore it anymore. But let’s both try not to say it.” And we agree.
It would be so cool to have one of those mind eraser thingies that Will Smith used in Men in Black. Meanwhile, the best I can do is help my kid understand that there are better ways to express anger or frustration. Owning your F-bombs also teaches kids a lesson that’s even more important in life: Nobody’s friggin’ perfect.
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Read more from Ellen at her other blog, Love That Max
Photo credit: Flickr/christopherdale