The F-word bites Baba in the @ss

And now, a long overdue follow-up to the previously hinted at Baberly indiscretion.

I would like to blame The Menopause, but in truth I can only blame myself. What follows is an object lesson in what can go wrong when one has not prepared one’s Profanity Game Plan far enough in advance. The experienced amongst you will snicker knowingly; those among you yet-to-tread this path should scootch your chairs up close and take notes.

Not that I didn’t know this all wasn’t coming down the pike. I just thought she’d be a teensy bit older.

See, we were driving back from her preschool the other day, the lil’ monkey and me, and she was fiddling with some little thing where she sat in the truck’s “jump seat.” What it was isn’t important. Maybe it was one of those little ponies, I don’t know.

“F#cking car,” she says sweetly.

Up go my eyebrows into my hairline, and I direct all my nerves toward the pressing matter of NOT zigzagging into a passing tree trunk, then a garbage can, then a bicyclist, then a bus stop bench and parked car.

I compose myself. I take in a long, slow breath; breathe it out “through a straw,” like how we learned in our childbirth education class, back in the heady long ago before our first child, when it was easy-peasy to be a perfect parent.

In case I might not have heard her the first time, the lil’ monkey gently presses the button a few more times.

“F#cking car, f#cking car.” All with this no rancor in her voice — she’s not angry or irritated, she just knows it’s a choice adjective.

“Yegods, it’s happened!” I think to myself. Then I think: “Think! Think, man, think!” Which of course crowds out all other, actual thoughts.

“Where did you learn that word, sweetie pie?” I ask, gingerly.

Even as I ask the question, I am saying in my head “Don’t pick me, don’t pick me, don’t pick me!”

“Sally,”she says matter-of-factly. Wheew.

Sally is one of her imaginary friends. So is Mary. For a time there, maybe half a year or a year back, she had a whole slew of them, with beautiful names fit for a Tolkein novel. Gawania. Tarala. Names up this alley. But now, we’e back to the basics.

“Sally, eh?” I try to sound as matter-of-fact as she does. “Well. First off, I’m glad you didn’t say ‘Baba,’ even though I rather suspect it might have been me you heard that from.”

I’m driving, so I can’t see her expression, but I can hear that all movement has ceased.

“That’s a pretty powerful word,” I go on, digging myself in deeper. “In fact it’s too strong to use in ordinary situations.” And then I traipse directly into a conversation about it as if she were a college freshman ruminating on the power of language.

“There’s a lot of people who won’t like hearing you use that word. Lots of people think it’s not right for kids to use language like that.” I think to myself about all the offensive, unkind, bigoted words I would have pulled the truck over to the side of the road and lectured her sternly about. This one, alas, wasn’t one of them.

Continued silence from the jump seat. Or, crickets, I think people say these days.

“Lots of people have rules or guidelines about what things people can say, or what kids can say, and that word is definitely, definitely on the list of Words Not To Say for lots of people. Kids or grown-ups.” I start to list the situations she’s likely to be in where her use of that word would arouse a feverish response. Okay, where her use of that word would let the cat out of the bag regarding Baba’s potty mouth.

“You know you may well have heard Baba use that word before, and if you did, if just maybe, just once, you might have heard Baba let slip with it, I want you to know that I shouldn’t have.”

Quiet attentiveness.

“So ideally, in the future, if you want to use that word, you should only use it around me.” Yep, uh huh, I said that.

I forget the next thing that she said, but thank heavens it was a complete non sequitor. She had already moved on. Not that I think the conversation escaped her notice. I just won’t know when or how it will surface again. Kind of like with everything regarding kids.

Later that day I reported the exchange to the beloved. She dropped her head, held it in her hands, and rocked back and forth. Muttering stuff like, “You didn’t. No, you didn’t say that.” And things of this nature.

I share this all just in case it seemed as if we were always singing harmoniously from the same Profanity Game Plan page in the same parental strategy hymnal. She was singing “Amazing Grace” or whatever, and I, apparently, was behind the barn with a joint, reading Mad magazine.

20 thoughts on “The F-word bites Baba in the @ss”

  1. Sassa let loose with the F word way back when she was a wee one. We didn’t react to it and she stopped saying it. Then, THEN, I dumped coffee all over the new car’s upholstery and the F word that I let out blew all other F word instances away. Oh yes, that one left a mark on her little brain.

    The next thing we know, she’s saying the F word at church… good thing we go to the Unitarian church and its good friends of ours in the Nursery.

    I actually have complex feelings about teh swears. Well, they’re not that complex, they’re just complex to other people. I think that word means what you intend it to mean and so a really forceful DARN is just as bad as a damn. It’s the emotion behind the word and the intended meaning that counts. To pretend otherwise, to mask the meaning of certain words with a social approbation while penalizing others and pretend that it’s all natural and inherent (which is NOT what I think you’re doing btw)… I just don’t like it.

    But. I also recognize context. For instance, if someone makes me upset in a business meeting, I’m not going to haul off and call them a f-ing a-hole. Just like I’m not going to write those words out here.

    So, that’s what we’re working on with Sassa. Context. Similar to what you did with the Lil Monkey. I actually think that wasn’t terrible. We’ve told Sassa that she can say that word if she wants to around us and the family, but she should use other words when she’s at daycare. Since she’s only 26 months I’m not sure if she understood or just finally forgot about it.

    On another note: did/do all the imaginary friends drive you a little nuts? Sassa has me jumping at shadows when she looks over my shoulder, makes eye contact with “something” and yells, “hey!” at one of her mischief-making imaginary monkeys. Or monsters. Or kittys. She’s got a slew of imaginary things and as cool as we’re trying to be, it still sometimes freaks me out a bit.

  2. What always has amused me is that my goddaughter knows full and well, at 5, which words will get her in big trouble mister. Mostly because our roommates have cursed like sailors around her since she could process sound. But she has the wonderful composure to say “I can only say dang” and now “crud”.

    But what is most shocking is when my 9 year old son lets the f word slip. Like the other night, after we’d watched a movie, he slid off of the bed and, in quoting the movie, let slide “f!*(k the pain away” and I almost choked on my tongue. He was shocked too, because his little hand flew over his mouth and he shriveled away from me as if I was going to send him to potty mouth hell. Hah.

    I do find that at a certain age/maturity level you can start “gifting” kids with bad words. Like, our goddaughter, gets crud and dang. Appropriate enough to allow that vent of emotions that comes with stubbing your toe or smashing your hand. Our son got ‘hell’ on his 9th birthday, and we’ll increase the naughty verbage as he gets older (damn and crap for 10, not sure what to do at 11 and 12, but once he’s a teenager he gets the mother of ’em all, the F word).

  3. whoopsie daisy.
    i struggle with this kind of thing in my work, molding young minds. every day in every way.
    and i remember when i was about 3 and called my brother a f*cker, during a mock fight. shock and awe in our household.
    but i’m sorry to say , 47 years later, i was right.
    ah families!

  4. Priceless story.

    My beloved was raised by a mother who had a sailor’s mouth, who was ALSO raised by a mother with a sailor’s mouth. I always find it amusing when my mom enters the scene, watching them try to contain themselves (see above: situations where you shouldn’t use words like that.)

  5. Okay, first of all, I laughed out loud, literally (what would that be? LOLL?) at your final line.

    I also think you were dead-on right. You’re not teaching a double standard, after all — just a very early rhetorical awareness of audience. Of course, I’m not a parent, nor will I ever be, so it’s easy for me to take sides on issues like this.

  6. First let me say once again how happy I am to be raising children near you raising children, LD. Fortunately when we had a virtually identical conversation in our car…

    1. The KIASIL was present so I didn’t have to tell her about it later
    2. Monkey’s cousin didn’t attribute his new found knowledge to anyone who lives with us
    3. I also didn’t drive into a tree

    If you and your beloved are not singing from the same hymnal, then I’m on your side of the pew.

    But your beloved and I were raised by the same pack of wolves, and I vividly remember a station wagon with grandma driving and me in the back seat, maybe seven years old.
    Something was so cool, or unexpected, or whatever, I felt compelled to say “F&#k!” just as I had learned from our beloved marm. I had learned more, though, so I quickly followed with “Oh, S^*t! That’s a word I’m not supposed to say in front of grandma.”

  7. Your writing is awesome. The beautifully written prose captures the undulation and nuance of lesbian parenthood perfectly.

    Most immmediate favourite posts: chopped liver- for sure this emotional darkness is more bearable now illuminated; egg donation- much welcome, reaffirming common sense when relatives seem intent on categorising our family on grounds of bio and non bio.

    Heartfelt thanks from the coalface of heternormative suburbia. If my comments next to your posts, and other comments, make us all part of the same travelling community thats just fanf***ingtastic. I suspect together we may already be engineering a more cogniscent and better equipped miner.

  8. I laughed both at the last line of your discussion with Lil Monkey, and at Reno’s comment. Can you tell which of your commenters is a professional rhetorician?

    I love the story, love how you handled it, and love the image of your having sneaked away behind the barn instead of learning the supposed-tos.

  9. We’ve always explained that some words that we use at home are not acceptable in the wider world. Both the kids certainly know a wide range of swear words… They don’t swear much – if at all. Our son is seven and, at the moment, is policing *my* language. Just today he told me off when I was chatting with friends in the park and declared something to be cr*p!

  10. My little one looked at her toy box a couple weeks back and said, with no rancor or obvious intention, and said “it’s all f*ed” up. I asked her if she meant messed up, and she said “yeah.” That was all, because I really don’t think she understood the power of the word. On the other hand, about a week ago when i had been gone way too long and our Baba was at her wit’s end, I came home to my little one saying, about nothing in particular, “That’s disgusting, goddammit.” Hmm, where did she hear that? Could it be…from Baba, not 10 minutes before?

    We didn’t react much to that one either — just cleared the deck and gave Baba a break. We’ll see if these words continue.

    One of our neighbors tells his son those are grown-up words. That works for now, at least while they still believe that soda and gum are only for grown-ups.

    I recall vividly a time when I was about 9 or 10 and referred to one of our neighbors as “that old drunk,” in front of my mom and another neighbor. Boy, that didn’t go over too well. I’m sure I had heard my parents talk about it. I was just trying to be grown-up and engage in their conversation. Oops.

  11. I could tell you the story of what happens when children are home educated by a VPM (very profane mom). Fortunately, they were in school until fourth grade, so the damage was delayed, for the most part, as I had a corporate workplace as an outlet for my potty mouth.

    My son was always, instinctively, very selective about where he used it and, even at 15, still is. My daughter? Not so much. I had to teach her that, as with other differences in values, some people will be offended, even sad, at the word, and others will love it as much as we do. : ) As always, the key is a bit of discernment. She’s respectful, but still working on that discernment part.

  12. I am totally on board with your Profanity Game Plan. Yes, she does seem a teensy bit young to be in profanity cahoots with you, but clearly she’s brilliant beyond her years.
    My older son dropped the f bomb for the first time when he was 17 months. More than a teensy bit on the young side, but he was talking in sentences then, and he’s always been on the precocious side. He couldn’t have heard the word more than a handful of times.
    He was riding his little fire truck thing around the house, and I believe, got it stuck on the rug. He struggled a bit to get loose, and said “f*ing b*tch”, with such the perfect amount of exasperation I couldn’t help but applaud his context. I mean, what else do you say when your fire truck is stuck on something? He was, of course, much too young to understand appropriate vs. inappropriate words, and my speech became peppered with (and remains thus) fudge, drat, gosh, dag nab it, and so on, and so forth. But I completely agree with what you said. Grown ups are ‘do what I say, not what I do’ much too often, and there’s really no harm in swearing as long as you aren’t corrupting fellow preschoolers. I think what you’ve done is show your daughter you’re a genuine and caring parent, who will always be on her side and tell her the truth.
    Well done.

  13. We have a child who likes to get to people so, after he heard the f-word, began to use it regularly in very mixed company (including my mother who does not take kindly to such language). We had to take a harder line. Our two year old actually said, “Dammit mama”. At least she used it in the proper context.

  14. Yowza, people! First off, you are so fu– oops! You are so frickin’ hilarious. It felt like I went out to pee right when the party got really fun.

    Also, so many of you are so very consoling. And here I thought I had made a huge guffaw (the beloved often speaks as if English were not her first language, and pawns gems like this off on a regular basis; she meant “gaffe,” one time, but went with “guffaw” until I gently corrected her). But so I thought I’d made a huge guffaw, and actually several of you have the same instincts as me.

    Alas, all this parenting stuff. So much of it simply boils down to instinct. Or does it all boil down to instinct?

    I, like librarygrrl, was raised by a sailor mouth ma. Dead ringer for Mrs. Butterworth, but lord love her when she got behind the wheel she left a blue streak behind us. Bless her soul. Apple didn’t seem to roll too very far from the tree.

    I love Att’s graduated scale of profanity. I am going to bring this to the beloved for her learned consideration. I’ll just have to note that the “mother of ’em all” edged its way onstage just a hair too soon.

    Chumpy, I’m honored by your praise, and do hope to continue to earn your high regard. The hands-down, single-most fantastic thing about this musing in public business is the community of kindred spirits we tap into. Vilkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

    And violetta, thanks for the Cockney rhyming slang page. Of course I scanned the G-rated page and then bopped on over to the “taboo” page, which I found to be the dog’s bollocks. I am far more tempted to teach her these as proper synonyms for the narsty verbiage, but then of course we could never travel in the UK after that, and I’d so very much like to take her to have some strawberries and clotted cream in the Lake Country one day, in honor of her Anglophile grandma and namesake, may she rest her foul-mouthed Khyber Pass in peace.

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