Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Doing battle with the F-Bomb

Years ago when my oldest was just a toddler, I drove over a speed bump a little too fast and uttered a certain expletive. My son, sitting in the back seat, promptly repeated it. Fortunately his speech development was in the early stages, so that I simply corrected him: "No, honey, it's 'SHOOT.' Can you say 'shoot?'"

Things have become more complicated, though, and I've come to realize that any outing might well become an opportunity for my children to pick up new vocabulary words.

One day the kids and I were walking home from the park and waiting to cross a fairly busy four-lane road with no crosswalk. A car in one of the middle lanes stopped, apparently firm in his conviction that pedestrians have the right-of-way in any situation. The other drivers did not agree, and continued on at 45 miles per hour. I waved the guy on, but he stayed right where he was, at least until that other guy came along and slammed into the back of his car.

I called the police and stuck around to act as a witness while the drama unfolded before our eyes. The guy who had rear-ended the first driver was hysterical. Still standing in the middle of the road, he called his girlfriend, whose car he'd been driving. And he was dropping the F-bomb all over the place:

"It's not my fault, baby! This f*@#ing guy just f*@#ing stopped right in the middle of the f*@#ing road!" And so on.

The girlfriend's mom showed up, obviously disgusted with the way her daughter's beau was freaking out. "Shut up!" she yelled at him. "You're only making it worse!"

After I gave my report to the police officer and we continued on toward home, I was interested to hear my kids' reactions.

My 2-year-old, without much life experience under her belt, didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary had occurred.

My 4-year-old was bursting with excitement. "Wow!" he kept saying. "That was just like a race car wreck!"

My 6-year-old was more reflective. We discussed the series of events, and who was technically at fault, and what everyone might have done differently. He thought it over a while, then said, "Those people were really mad."

"Yes, they sure were," I agreed.

"And that lady said a bad word," he went on. "She said 'shut up.'"

Whew. That was a close one. But at some point, living in the world as it is today, our kids are going to hear bad words. And although frankly I'm much more concerned about violent images and Cialis commercials, cuss words are still something parents have to deal with cautiously. Make too big a deal of it and you give the words too much power. Treat it too lightly and your preschooler will be swearing on the playground.

Sometimes, you just can't win. Not long ago my son was on the computer watching YouTube videos about countries while my husband lingered nearby, because you just never know what is going to show up on YouTube. Sure enough, the video he was watching turned out to be some political propaganda in which Turkey tells Cyprus to "F*@# OFF!" The words hung there, written across the screen, and my son asked, "Dad, what does 'F*@#' mean?"

My poor husband tried to find that line between under- and over-reacting, basically saying that it was a very, very, VERY bad word and nobody should EVER say it. That seemed to do the trick, and it didn't come up again.

Eventually I suppose the F-bomb will go the way of "damn" and "hell"-- not exactly scandalous, but not something you'd want to say in front of your grandmother.

For now though, it remains something you don't want your kid to say, ever.

So it was particularly delightful that when my son chose to pull the F-bomb out of his arsenal, it happened to be--that's right--in front of his grandmother.


Firefly mom said...

Ah, the F bomb. Believe it or not, my son was 10 1/2 before he found out what the "F" word was. For several years he thought it was "fitch" (don't ask - we don't know why, either). When his (younger) cousins found out that he didn't know it, they looked at him like he had 3 heads. And then immediately offered to tell him. He declined. To be honest, he'd heard it before. On TV. In public. Out of my own mouth a time or two. He just never realized what it meant. To him, it was just another word that he didn't know the meaning of. No big deal. So he was a little disappointed when he found out that the "F" word was a word he'd already heard ;)

Meaghan said...

My husband is French and we are raising our daughter to be bilingual. As you might imagine, this leads to any number of humorous scenes of miscommunication or confusion worthy of any Inspector Clouseau film.

One anecdote in particular comes to mind. We were in the Central Park Zoo, lounging on the stone steps by the outdoor seal tank. My husband was explaining all the animals to our not quite 2-year-old daughter in French and she was listening intently. Then, something perked up my ears: I heard the French word for seal, which is phoque.

"Blah blah blah phoque, blah blah les phoques, blah blah," I hear him explain.

Since then, it's one of a handful of French words I have banned until further notice. We don't need her going on some preschool field trip to the zoo saying to her teacher, "Hey Mrs. Smith! Look at those phoquers!"

nannydeprived said...

I like how your son thought "shut up" was the bad word! Too cute.