There is a first time for everybody and mine came in the carpool lane of the San Diego Freeway.
“Bleeping BLEEP!” I yelled at the tail-gating trucker who risked killing me and my 2-year-old strapped in back.
A couple heartbeats later, a song issued forth from the child safety seat. “Bleeping BLEEP! Bleeping BLEEP!” There was humming. Hand claps.
Had anyone else been in the car, I’m sure it would be on YouTube, like the tooting baby videos.
“No, no, NO,” I sang back nervously, hoping he’d pick up the new lyric. No chance. The chanting incident persisted just long enough to cause a few friends to fall over laughing.
But there would be another.
In front of our local deli, my car was trapped by the largest SUV on the market, which was also illegally parked. There was no driver, no way out and we needed to be at work and preschool. After a 50-point back-forth attempt to escape, I finally resorted to tapping the truck’s front bumper twice, hoping for just two inches to escape.
An enraged woman sprung from nowhere, fist up, shrieking through the window. I responded on adrenalin–textbook for what NOT to do.
Her: “Didn’t you see you were hitting my truck, B?!”
Me: “Didn’t you see my kid in the back, B?”
I instantly gassed it but was shook. How brilliant to scold her for swearing…by swearing. Some role model. My son, far from scared, cheered like I’d defeated Darth. He still retells this story to friends.
What is it with driving and swearing?
“I remember when my daughter was two, and my husband was in Japan on a movie,” said my friend Susan, whose MARRIED TO A sound engineer. “I was kind of stressed, and this woman cuts me off, and I blurt out, (the f.b. combo)! So two weeks later, my husband comes home and he’s driving to the store and he has to slam on his brakes for somebody. And he has no idea why when our daughter yells” (blanking blank!)”
I could go on with these anecdotes, and most of them occur in cars. I won’t claim I’ve stopped swearing, but I definitely watch myself when not alone.
As your kids get a bit older, the condemnation starts.
“You just broke one of the 10 Commandments,” said the son of my friend, Robyn, who confessed her sin and vowed to seek forgiveness at church that Sunday. In the good old days when he was three, she’d heard that you can bury a curse word in a stream of rhymes: luck, duck, stuck, muck, yuck….
Speaking for myself, I can’t take the lectures from someone that much shorter than me.
But the jig is up by grade school. The other day, a first-grade boy said my dress was ‘’sexy.” I looked around speechless. Another Mom on the playground mouthed, “South Park,” shaking her head.
What you permit your kids to watch on TV is a cross-over issue with your family’s policy on swearing. I tend to see friends who allowed their kids to watch “The Simpsons” at 4 and 5 having a lenient view of cursing in the house.
Their take is that swearing permeates popular culture, and teaching them to know when to use it is part of learning overall manners and respect for others.
“I think they see our hypocrisy if we tell them no-no on swearing but watch shows with everyone using the F-word,” argued Susan.
Still, I hated it when I saw cards from neighbor kids that read, “Happy freakin’ Valentine’s Day.” They’d been sold as fundraisers at the local elementary school.
On one of my favorite blogs, www.Motherlode.com, one poster cited the findings of a 2007 British study: “Swearing was [seen] as a social phenomenon to reflect solidarity and enhance group cohesiveness or as a psychological phenomenon to release stress.”
I think that is true. Coming clean with your children about that, as they get older, gives you credibility. It is also a relief to children to hear their parents make mistakes. (I actually think this is my son’s FAVORITE kind of story, what Mom messed up today). Be it swearing or losing your cool, sharing your blunders can effectively show that nobody’s perfect; the goal is to learn from the mistakes.
Kids can feel an alarming degree of pressure to be perfect. Sometimes I forget that.
Yet there has to be a limit. In the same Motherlode blog post, it was revealed that preschoolers at the local daycare were seeing swearing of a stunning kind. Toddlers not even walking were known to drop their Sippy cups and yell, “What the….”
That’s just wrong.
But in our house, our take is that swear words are just words, but the ones you choose reflect something about you. Saying ‘Oh my God,’ for instance, offends some of our relatives. The obviously bad language might cost you friends and play dates if a parent hears you swearing.
I also confessed to my son that I swear up a storm when I’m alone in my car, and that I don’t really care what he says privately, because cursing, for me, is a release. But it all comes down to manners, which means making others feel comfortable.
An extreme form of this: a friend of my haircutter gives her kids five minutes a day in a room to yell and scream anything they want.
It’s like late-night cable TV in there, and you might find yourself thinking, “What the what?”