Somewhere between preschool and high school, kids discover the strange and powerful world of profanity. While I can’t recall my first use of an expletive, I am still haunted by the verbal deluge of “dingleberrys” and “doodie-heads” which I so furiously rained down upon my childhood friend Joey after he foolishly claimed that a ThunderCat would beat a Dinosaucer in a fight. Poor naïve little Joey. Anyway, at some point kids become aware of the forbidden nature of curse words and the penalty that their usage brings; but before that there are really only two reasons that a child will drop 4-letter knowledge on you:
a) They accidentally stumble upon a cuss word while exploring the concept of rhyming; i.e. “hit, spit, slit, sh**”
b) They repeat what they’ve heard somewhere else
In scenario A, we as parents tend to respond in the most practical and composed way possible; by awkwardly reprimanding our kids for no good reason and responding to their inevitable “why can’t I say that?” with the classic “because I said so.” It’s juvenile, I know, but it’s also the easy way out, which as far as ways out go, is the best kind; amirite?
But scenario B, now that’s a little trickier. A couple of months ago, Jen and I found ourselves face to face with scenario B and my reaction is not one I’m particularly proud of. It was a few weeks after Christmas and we were combing the aisles of Target looking for the best “nobody wants this stuff anymore because it’s red and green” deals we could find. A Target gift card in the hands of my wife is like arcade tickets in the grabby little mitts of a 7-year-old. It literally burns a bullseye into her palm if she doesn’t spend it immediately.
The smell of plastic and savings filled the air as we moved up and down the storage aisles; Jen’s eyes lighting up with every multi-compartmental Rubbermaid she passed. We analyzed several options, trying to determine the right size and shape to accommodate the perfect combination of onesies and sleepers…it was parental geometry at its best.
The window of good toddler behavior was closing in proportion with every minute that ticked away, and while it was clear that Jen could’ve spent hours comparing containers (which is an issue worthy of its own post); we needed to make some decisions and get to rollin’ out. We settled on a storage solution and I quickly loaded four bins into the cart as the three kids did their best Three Stooges impression, clunking their heads together as I pulled ahead to grab the lids. I reached down and picked them up one by one…one, two, three…that was it. There were only 3 lids. How in the name of translucent plastic can there only be 3 lids!? Dear God What Are We Going To Do!!
“Dammit” A tiny voice muttered from the front of the cart. It was unmistakably Jake and unmistakably clear.
I paused for a moment, wondering if it was possible that the little guy had just entered my mind and extracted one of the many obscenities currently flowing through it like an R-Rated river. I slowly stood up and turned towards Jen, feeling guilty that my son’s apparent clairvoyance caught me internally cursing the plastic bins. In an attempt to avoid blame, I quickly heaved a heavy dose of guilt in her direction by beating her to the punch. “Wonder where he heard that from?” I asked rhetorically, while pointing a raised eyebrow at her. I fully expected her to volley the onus back to me, but in a surprise turn of events she took full ownership and admitted to accidentally dropping the D-word on more than one occasion.
I breathed a sigh of relief, but spent the next several hours asking Jake questions in my head to see if he’d respond. We stumbled through what was probably an incoherent explanation of why he shouldn’t say that word, during which his attention wandered between his siblings’ antics and our blubbering mouths. After what felt like an hour-long lecture, but was probably no more than 30 seconds of disjointed drivel, we closed out our speech and ceded the floor to the young buck.
“Do you understand Jake?” I asked.
He turned his attention back to us and politely confirmed that he hadn’t heard a word we just said by asking “Why can’t I say that?”
Jen and I turned to one another, then back to Jake, and replied in the most practical and composed way possible…”Because we said so.”