I say a lot of stupid shit. This isn’t news to me, I spend every day with myself. Historically, most of my profane rants have been limited to monologues delivered in the privacy of my car, or tirades witnessed only by my dogs, who have been kind enough not to slander me.
When I became an auntie, I started trying to watch my mouth and become more of a role model, with moderate success. Later, as a step-parent, I again tried to curb my potty mouth and behave like a proper adult, as unnatural as it felt. It’s possible that I didn’t make any discernable improvements in either department. Most conveniently, however, when one has a child who divides her time between two homes, one can conveniently chalk up all negative behavior to things learned at the Other House. Now, as the biological mommy of a toddler just learning to talk, I find myself once again considering a swear jar for the grownups in our home.
I admit to worrying that my kids will adopt my more unorthodox methods of self-expression and decoration, although, theoretically, exercising our right to adorn ourselves with tattoos or swear (or both!) should not be barriers to success. Being inked up never prevented me from attending an ivy league university, landing a solid job, finding love, or being a good parent. Having said that, if I were interviewing elementary school teacher candidates, and a prospect rolled in with THUG LIFE tattooed across her knuckles, I might have some reservations.
On the same token, I don’t think that profanity and professionalism are mutually exclusive. Some of the women I respect most, like my boss and my mother, are esteemed professionals with noteworthy careers and healthy, happy families – and a propensity for dropping the occasional f-bomb. The hippie mom of an old boyfriend told me that she never discouraged her boys from swearing, because the only real bad words were “hate” and “war.” While I love that idea, and agree with it wholeheartedly, I don’t really want my kids to casually call their 1st grade teacher a “twatwaffle.”
The other real problem is that I find it invariably funny when little kids say bad things. This clearly dates back to my childhood. When I was 5 years old, my parents hired a mother’s helper through an agency. The sweet Mormon recruit arrived one Friday afternoon from Salt Lake City, just in time for Family Dinner. We never actually had legit family dinners, no one’s schedules accommodated that sort of thing. However, we were determined to fake it, at least for our new nanny’s first night. My parents had us scrubbed and spiffily dressed, seated round our table like the normal family we weren’t. After we all introduced ourselves and my Dad welcomed her to our happy home, my sister (aged 3) said she wanted to make “a ‘nouncement.” My parents swelled with pride and the new babysitter looked charmed. Megan stood up on her chair, beamed, and said “MOMMY IS A BIG SHIT.” Everyone but our mother’s helper laughed themselves silly. She paled, called her father, and declared our house a hotbed of sin. Our new babysitter became our old babysitter the next morning, when she returned to Utah on the first available flight.
Reflecting on (and giggling at) this now, I can honestly say that I don’t want to encourage my own kids to spew profanity, nor do I wish to reinforce undesirable behavior. Quite the opposite. Teaching children to say awful things is not funny at all. Still, when an innocent kid unknowingly says something outrageous, I have never been able to keep a straight face.
A few of the memorable naughty things our kids have let fly:
Lili (age 2 1/2, seated in her carseat looking out the window): “She’s the town bitch.” Lili (age 4, upon being asked what she’d like to tell her great aunt in her holiday card): “Tell her to shove it.”
Lili (age 6ish, upon being asked if she’d like chicken parm for dinner): “That would really piss me off.”
Lili (age 6ish, upon being asked to behave herself): “You’re acting like an a**hole.”
T (age 18 months, just after dropping something): “oh, sheeee-it.”
Upon seeing the shocked expression on my face, the subsequent 24 hours straight were full of gleeful cries of “Sheeit! Sheeit!!”
T (age 2, proudly holding up a plastic fork): “F*CK!”
Once again, thrilled by the horrified look on my face, T ran laps of the house chanting “F*CK! F*CKF*CKF*CK!!” for hours.
I’m sure we haven’t seen the last time my children horrify me with perfect imitations of their parents’ and grandparents’ expressions or antics. It is my goal to help our kids grow into articulate, respectful little people with impressive vocabularies full of appropriate, G-rated words. And while I won’t celebrate their untoward behavior, I most certainly reserve the right to laugh at it.