This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post, on Feb. 16.
This morning, I placed my two-year-old son, Eddie, in his high chair and put a plate of bananas covered in peanut butter on his tray. He looked up at me with his little pinkies extended, and clearly, as one might say, “Hi,” or “Bye,” he said, “Fuk.”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Fuk,” he said. And once again with more emphasis, in case I didn’t hear him the first time. “Fuk!”
It was the third time he’d used that word this week, and every time he did, I thought, “Dammit. The fact that I have a foul mouth has finally come home to roost.”
Friends had warned me if I didn’t clean up my language, it was going to rub off on my son. Until now, Eddie wasn’t old enough to understand what I was saying. It appears that’s now changing.
I was never one to care about cursing in front of children. Before I had my son, I even resented having to curb my language. I hated the way when we’d visit friends with children, I couldn’t get a story out without constantly being interrupted with “Shuh!” or “Achem!” every time I said a four letter word. These same friends usually had prohibitions on anyone watching shows like “Law and Order” or “Family Guy,” in their homes because they deemed the language or subject matter to be inappropriate for children.
“So we all have to suffer?” I would think.
My husband has even gotten on my case about word choice.
“You know he said ‘Fuk,’ the other day,” my husband said.
“Yeah, I’ve heard him say that, too. I think he was talking about his ‘truck.’ I don’t know why he calls it that, but he meant ‘truck,’ “ I said.
“Yeah?” my husband said.
“Yeah,” I said.
While using profanity may not be genetic, the idea that it shouldn’t be verboten apparently is. My father thought the prohibition on cursing was ridiculous. But more than that, he thought such a prohibition actually encouraged it. To prove his point, he conducted a scientific experiment in our home when I was young. He told me and my brother that under no circumstance could we ever use the word, “Gherkin.” It was simply forbidden. And don’t you know, whenever I felt angry, the first word I would utter was, “Gherkin!” When I felt defiant? “Gherkin!” Frustrated? “Gherkin!” In our house, this miniature pickle was something to be avoided, not because it tasted bad, but because if you said it, you could get your mouth washed out with soap. When the experiment was over, and I could use the word “Gherkin” as freely as anyone else, I no longer said it, proving his point.
Years later, I replaced “Gherkin” with any number of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The words weren’t just alluring because they were prohibited. When I used them, I seemed to exude toughness, something I didn’t feel as a shy youth who was afraid to express her opinions. People seemed to think a girl who uses foul language eats nails for breakfast and can kick your butt, if not physically then verbally. Nothing says “strength” like a string of sewer-mouthed invectives.
Of course nothing says “disrespect” like a string of sewer-mouthed invectives, and that’s what I’ve finally come to realize. People have strong opinions about cursing. In a crowded room full of chatter, profanity is jarring. It sounds menacing, like shattering glass. When you use it, people form opinions about you that aren’t always good, just as they might form an opinion about someone who has a tattoo or a nose ring. And some of the people forming those opinions will be my son’s teachers or prospective friends. I figure Eddie’s got plenty of time to disenfranchise himself from the people around him. I should at least let him get to second grade before that starts happening.
But I know Eddie doesn’t have a chance in hell of keeping his mouth clean unless I clean up my own mouth, and I need to do it fast. He’s already begun mimicking the things me and my husband do. He’s started calling me, “Scay-bee,” the pet name my husband and I call each other. He takes tissues out of the tissue box and pretends to blow his nose, because he’s seen me do it. He sits briefly on his little training potty, grunts once and then says, “All done,” because he watches us. After seeing me put strips of first-aid tape on my chest so that when I go running, my bra doesn’t give me an abrasion, Eddie now asks for tape and then places it on his own chest, in the same spots I place mine.
My son’s daycare is in a church, and when I attended a Zumba class there the other day, I found myself standing next to the daycare’s director. I turned to her, after a particularly strenuous dance routine, and said, “Oh my god, my f—ing ankle is killing me!” As she looked up at me incredulously, I could feel the words float out of my mouth in slow motion the way people describe that moment in a car accident when their vehicle turns 180 degrees before crashing into the guardrail. It seems I need to curb my cursing not just in front of Eddie but in front of his teachers, lest they think I throw curse words around our home with impunity. Much in life is viewed like the “Broken Window Theory:” People will think if a parent allows cursing at home, what other dirty, filthy habits will they tolerate?
I watched Eddie in his high-chair, and he didn’t seem to be eating his bananas. He just sat there staring at them.
“Fuk,” he said again. He then pointed to a drawer of our kitchen cabinet.
“This?” I said and opened the drawer. “Fork!”
I took a fork out of the utensil tray and handed it to my son.
“Fuk,” he said, holding up the fork. He then speared one of the bananas and stuck it in his mouth and smiled.
I was given a reprieve, but I knew it was only temporary. With Eddie now two, I was going to have to begin training my potty mouth now. Because I hear it only gets more challenging as time goes on.