My son is a talker. At 18 months old, he can already string together a few sentences -- helpful turns of phrase like "It goes roar!" or "That's a star!" Apparently, "I'm hungry!" or "I'm so tired I'm about speak in tongues!" are just too pedestrian for my kid.
He's also quite the parrot, repeating whatever word catches his fancy. As any mom or dad with a potty mouth knows, the threat of toddler repetition puts a real kink in your swearing style. About a week ago, while stuck in a traffic jam with my kid in the backseat, I caught myself shouting, "I dare you to get one inch closer to my bumper, hineyhole! I M.F.-ing dare you!" Ah yes. Nothing strikes fear into the heart of aggressive motorists like a woman shaking her fist in the rear view mirror while yelling "hineyhole."
Notably, Pork Chop's pronunciation skills leave a lot to be desired. "Shirt" sounds surprisingly adult when uttered by my son. But "clock"? "Clock" sounds downright X-rated. Coincidentally, Pork Chop's daycare provider has a large clock hung just inside the entrance to her home. Three days per week, my son enthusiastically greets kindly Ms. F. with what sounds like a filthy proposition. I'm one proud mama.
Toddler swear words are a rite of passage for almost all parents. Sometimes it's just that your kid can't handle the "tr" sound in "truck." Sometimes it's just that you are a horrible person and swear in front of your sweet, innocent children. Of course it's embarrassing when your 3-year-old tells the cashier to "eat a bag of dicks," but what are ya gonna do? Beating yourself up about it won't make your kid un-say "eat a bag of dicks." And, frankly, some people deserve to eat a bag of dicks. If the situation merits it, you put on your horrified face, mumble an apology, and haul butt out the door before anyone notices that you're trying not to laugh.
If karma is real, then I have precious little time before Pork Chop says something that gets me investigated by Child Protective Services. Neither of my parents was particularly foul-mouthed. They might let slip with an occasional "shit" or "damn" in the heat of the moment, but to this day, I've never heard my dad drop an F-bomb. In fact, the word "fart" was nearly verboten in our home -- deemed too "unladylike."
But as a little kid, I loved learning new words. My grandmother bought me a dictionary, and I would spend time each day poring over the pages, jotting down unfamiliar vocabulary with my favorite magenta crayon. Suffice it to say that, at 6 years old, I was already a pretty big loser. By the time I was 8, I was walking myself the mile or so to the library, where I would sign myself up for various reading programs. Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing really spoke to my terminally dorky heart.
1984 was a tough year. I had a bowl haircut, I read dictionaries for fun, and I lost my mom to cancer. I wanted so badly to feel normal. After school let out for the day, I'd hang back from the mass of kids swarming the parking lot of St. Dominic's Catholic school. I studied the crowd like I studied the dictionary, eager to learn something new, something that might make me just a little bit cool. And, to me, the 8th graders were a bottomless font of cool. I rolled the skirt of my uniform like they did. I let my socks slouch like they did. I doused myself in Love's Baby Soft cologne like they did. I tried to talk like they did, even though most of what they said was a complete mystery: Why were they always discussing the time of the month? And what made a kiss French, as opposed to American or, say, Mexican?
And that's where we come to the part of the story where I nearly get my dad arrested.
If 1984 was a tough year for me, it had to be downright unbearable for my dad. He was suddenly the single father of three little girls, ages 8, 6, and 2. But even through the grief and the fear and the exhaustion, my dad made time to play -- to toss a softball in the backyard, to hold impromptu Michael Jackson dance parties in our living room, to go to the park. Our favorite destination was Baltimore's Burdick Park, just a block from my grandparent's row home. It was a few bucolic acres of oak trees and wide grassy fields. There was a much beloved twisty sliding board, rows of swings, and enough 80s-era metal playground equipment to simultaneously break the bones of a hundred different kids. Paradise.
So on a warm, sun-drenched Saturday afternoon, my dad packed us into the Chevy Chevette and headed to Burdick Park. There was a line to get on the twisty sliding board and the swings were occupied, but we were unfazed. My dad challenged us to a game of tag. (At 2 years old, I can't imagine my youngest sister, Sarah, joining us in this game, but I don't recall what she was doing exactly. Now that I'm the mom of a toddler, my best guess is that she was calmly eating mulch.) Anyway, my middle sister and I rose to the challenge immediately. We rocketed around the see-saw, through the middle of a basketball game, and toward the small park maintenance building.
|I'm about to make this super awkward, Dad.|
"I'm gonna get you guys!" my dad shouted, sprinting after us.
"No way!" my sister Kim shouted back. Always the superior athlete, Kim shot between a group of kids and toward a stand of trees.
I was left out in the open, with my dad gaining on me.
My energy was flagging a bit, but I still had a lot of fight left. I reached the corner of the maintenance building, turned toward my dad, and called to mind a term I'd heard the 8th-grade girls casually lob at the boys from time to time.
"Get away from me, you pervert!" I yelled. Then I sprinted around the side of the building.
I remember a mom with a stroller stopping dead in her tracks to stare at me.
"Haha! You'll never catch me, you pervert!" I screamed as I rounded the back of the building.
"Pervert, pervert, pervert!" I chanted as I took off toward the merry-go-round, drunk on speed and my own coolness.
A group of kids near the monkey bars had gone strangely quiet.
My dad finally caught up with me as I reached the merry-go-round. His face was red. His mouth looked stiff. "Geez, he's taking this game pretty seriously," I thought, just as he grabbed me by the arm.
"Let go of me, you pervert," I laughed.
My dad looked like he had just been brutally goosed. With his eyes still wide, he leaned down and hissed, "Jeeeeesus Christ, Jessie. Shut the hell up!"
Suffice it to say that our day at the park ended right then and there. On the ride home, my dad wanted to know where exactly I'd picked up my fun new word, but I guess he was just too tapped out to explain what the word actually meant. I had to sleuth out the definition on my own during recess later that week. It was a gut-churning revelation.
Thirty years later, I still remember how my dad hustled us out of the park that day, his hand held gently at my back, urging me to walk a bit more quickly. I remember hearing him sigh and thinking to myself, "Boy, I really wore Dad out!" I remember feeling briefly and cluelessly cool.
So do I like that my son shouts "cock" at his daycare provider? No. Do I like using "hineyhole" when the situation merits something much stronger? No. But karmically speaking, I have bigger perverts to fry.