Thursday, November 19, 2009

Words: When Children Learn Words They Ought Not to Know

"Mom," the conversation began, as oh so many do these days. I can tell from the tone of Brendan's voice that he has something important to tell me.

Usually when a conversation begins this way, it involves the newest cool trick he has learned in Lego Star Wars for the Wii
or some super-awesome-fantastically amazing-so-great-it-must-be-bought-today Star Wars toy.But not this time.

Now, let's pause for a moment... I bet you're thinking that whatever was coming my way was something that I was utterly unprepared for. And any other day besides today, you would have been right. I so did not see this coming. But thanks to fate, luck, the perfect alignment of just the right celestial bodies, and my super-awesome-fantastically amazing-so-great-I-don't-know-what-I'd-do-without-him husband, I was ready.

So, the conversation continued, "Mom, some of the kids at school told me and Peter that there's a word called fuck and that it's a bad word. But I don't believe them because I've never heard that word before. Peter didn't believe them either."

I must have stood staring at him for a full 10 seconds, mouth agape, completely in shock. In shock, not because my angelic-looking six-year old just dropped the f-bomb, a word, by the way, that I didn't learn until I was in fifth grade (Thanks, Renee, for corrupting me!). Well, at least not entirely because of that, because honestly, it was pretty shocking.

No, I was in shock that he'd never heard it. While my husband is someone always in control of the what he speaks, an artist and master of language who doles out his words carefully, with the precision of a Vegas dealer and rarely utters a cuss word unless it is demanded by the situation, I have the mouth of a sailor. More or less. Well, at least I did until Brendan came along.

Then, I took great pains to dial it back. I had no idea how successful I had been because I have only been aware of the times when I've missed the (effing) mark. Like the time we were watching The Simpsons and Homer yells "Dammit!*" And Brendan, in a burst of glee and triumph shouts, "Mom! That's what you always say!"

My daze of shock and awe over Brendan's discovery of this new verbal device was cut short as he pulled me back to the moment with his persistent questioning. "Well is it?"

"What?," I responded.

He gives me an exasperated sigh and hand gestures that demand my attention as he asks me again, "Is fuck a real word?"

And so, there I was, in the middle of the kitchen having one of those real-life teaching moments with my son, thinking, "I am so NOT ready for this. Not ready for my baby to be learning such bad words and who are these bad children who are teaching him this?" when I realized that I was ready.

Instantly, I flashed back to the evening before when Scott and I were sitting in bed and he read me this article. Can you believe that? Less than 24 hours earlier, my husband reads to me a random, but very funny and insightful, article from a dad dealing with exactly the same situation I found myself in? What kind of awesome luck is that?

So, I turned to Brendan and said, "Yes, honey, that is a real word. And it's the worst word you can possibly say. There is no word worse than that one and I hope that you'll choose never to say it to anyone. And by the way, who told you about it?"

He looked at me as if he had just learned the coolest thing in the world, saying, "Wow. I didn't know. I'm sorry I said it and I won't say it again," which I guess, is about the best you can hope for in that situation. I'm sure it will come up again. I just hope I'm lucky enough to have read someone else's witty response to their child the night before so I'll be prepared when it does.

*For some reason the bastardization of "damn it" to "dammit" bothers me. A lot. But when I hear Homer saying that line, I believe he's actually saying "Dammit!". So, that's what you get folks. Even if, technically, it's wrong.


Heather said...

While I'm sure my kids have had the opportunity to hear choice words (oops!) I feel a bit prudish about the proliferation of lesser versions of profanity. I'm wondering when the first time my 5yo is going to ask me what WTF stands for. I can't stand hearing/reading "effin" Love that six can still be so innoncent. Also---can't wait til my little guy gets into Legos!

Kathy said...

Oh hear!! This is Peter's Mom - Kathy!! He has not mentioned any lovely new words he has learned recently. I think I will NOT ask him and let it slide this time. Thanks for sharing!

Sarah said...

LOVELY! Haven't heard this yet, but we've certainly had our share of questions since starting first grade. Can we just go live in a bubble??

Anne said...

It is frustrating to not be able to control the words my child is introduced to, but luckily, we have not had this one yet.

We did have to deal with the "N" word in our old neighborhood. that one broke my heart. He was three or four at the time.

Shari said...

Our girls come home with interesting words ever since they started taking the bus to school. In our neighborhood, we're discussing swear words in the three dominant languages. It's challenging since I only speak one of the three languages!

Dawn said...

@Anne, I take it back. The F-word is not the worst word. How could I have forgotten that one. That is definitely the worst word. I'm so glad my kids haven't been exposed to it yet. I think we literally only know one person that might say it, although I actually think they may have heard it from that person once and it went right over their heads. Sadly, none of us grownups had the guts to call that person on it. Shame on us.

@Shari, good luck with figuring out the worst words in three languages! What a job! What are the languages? Maybe you and some of your neighbors who speak the other languages could share lists with each other.

Ben and Bennie said...

While the N word is the worst my wife reminded me that she hates the C word more than the F word. And yes, I have a mouth like a sailor too. I think my daughter chooses not to curse because dad does which in her book isn't all that cool.