Last weekend my nine year old son had a couple buddies sleep over.
Not that they did much sleeping.
I let them choose a movie to watch as they settled in on the living room floor. They chose Jumanji and I retreated to put my daughter to bed mostly because it was late, but partially because Robin Williams makes me teary. I nodded off and woke when my husband finally came upstairs.
The movie had ended and the boys had gone back to making fart sounds and playing skateboarding games on various ipods. Forcing me to get all, “when I was your age” on them, I headed downstairs to drop the screen hammer.
“Guys, I’m going to be cool. I’m not telling you to go to sleep. What I’m telling you, is that sleepovers are meant for staying up late talking. Not laying next to someone with a screen in your face. Save that for when you’re married. Plus, you all start arguing. Put them away.”
With a groan or two, they obliged. I returned to bed, some 12 yards away and it suddenly became apparent that 8 and 9 year olds are not the suavest of creatures. It seemed they suspected that I either dropped dead the second my head hit the pillow or that sound does not carry through darkness.
The conversation was muffled until one, with hesitation in his voice, meekly croaked the word “asshole”. The others burst into laughter and the next, his voice the auditory equivalent of a kid standing at the edge of the high dive quipped, “ssshhhhhhhhhIT!”. It was obvious NONE of them could believe their mouths could actually form the words. Suddenly, it was a chorus of “asshole! butt ass! shit!”. They could hardly contain themselves. It was like they won the word lottery. I buried my head in my pillow so they couldn’t hear me hysterical right along with them. No one test drove the holy grail, but honestly, I wouldn’t have gone down to wag my finger at them even if they did.
I remember the first time I accidentally dropped a bomb. I was probably about nine myself, and we had gone out for ice cream. I made my request and my father went up to place our order. Seconds later, he returned to disappoint me. “They’re out of mint chocolate chip.”
Not missing a beat, I lightly pounded my fist into the table and muttered, “shit!”. My eyes bulged as I quickly clapped my hand over my mouth wondering if perhaps I should just crawl under the table. I don’t remember getting in trouble (likely because he had no ground to stand on since, to quote Ralphie Of A Christmas Story, “My father [and mother] worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master.”) but I do remember almost dying of embarrassment.
Maybe this comes as a surprise, but I don’t have a problem with “bad words”. Ok, no it doesn’t. Surprise guys! I’m also white, blonde, and enjoy some god damn cupcakes. But I’ve mastered the who, what, when, where, and why of using them…for the most part. (I can not be held responsible for the things I say when playing Mario Kart.) Perhaps to my credit, my kids have learned, without being told explicitly, that some words are reserved for adults.
Of course I don’t want my kids walking around live performing a Wu-Tang album, but the truth is, I’ll take a well placed “oh shit!” over a “she’s stupid” any day. ANY words used to cut people down don’t fly with me. At the same time, the lessons of how to speak to people respectfully as whole, rather than calling out particular combinations of letters hold more water.
So far, neither child devotes much breath to disparaging remarks, G or R rated. Moreover, when I recently said in frustration, “ugh! This stupid thing is so shitty!” my three year old gently reminded, “Mama, don’t say that. ‘Stupid’ is not a nice word.”
Noted, young grasshopper. Noted.