Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Most Horrible Word in the World

My son knows the "Mother" of all bad words. Calvin is 9 years old and knows the F-bomb. I know this because when a fellow boy scout asked him if he knew any curse words he jumped right in with the spelling. He didn't say it, he spelled f_ _ _. At a camp out breakfast in front of the other boy scouts, and their parents!

All the other parents turned away, refusing to meet my eye. Their public shunning was a way of saying, "You are a potty mouth man! It is your fault my child can now spell THE bad word."

In the silence of the morning I screamed, "Where did you learn that word? I don't say it! Your mother doesn't say it! Where did you hear that!?" I had to say that loudly so that everyone would know that the filthy word that slimed its way from my son's mouth in the form of four offensively joined letters, could not have come from me.

As amazingly unbelievable as that my seem, I am proud to say that it is true. I was able to master the technique of suppressing the urge to utter words from the naughty list early in my career as a kindergarten teacher. I can turn it off just like it was a light switch. My wife has this ability, too. We do not watch offensive programming when the children are around, and avoid any situation in which our children would encounter questionable language.

The funny thing is that by the time I was in fifth grade, I was a heavy user of vulgarity. I wallowed in the creative use of the f-word. Adjective, noun, verb, adverb and interjection. I would have contests with my friends to see how many times the word could be used in one sentence. Times were different then. I had limited adult supervision, and a father who had an extremely short temper and was an artistic master in the use of curse words. Good times...

Deep inside of me was a teenaged version of myself laughing hysterically at the predicament I found myself in now. I loudly tried to convince the world that I had done everything possible to keep my oldest child from obtaining this, the most secret of all words. The Ultimate Bad Word. So, again I demanded from him, "Where did you hear that word?"

I can tell from his reaction that he really has no idea of the potential extreme trouble he is in. His expression slowly changes from a smile to a frown as he sees my face contort with rage. Then he says, "I heard it from Savannah." He blames his 6 year old sister!

Unbelievable! I can't even speak now. Jumbled up sounds come out of me. I am not able to form a complete word. There is no way this is possible. Not my little angel... There is simply no way that filth has spread to my beautiful little princess.

I manage to calm myself and give him the, "We will talk about this later," line that is designed to instill fear in every child, but what it really means is that I have no clue as to what to do, or say, and I need the extra time to make a plan.

Almost as soon as we hit the car on the drive out of the camp grounds I am back to the subject. The poor kid is losing it and starting to cry. I don't want that. I want him to learn from the experience, not be crushed by it. So I told him that I understand what it is like to be a kid and say things that shouldn't be said. I told him about the time that I was 7 and screamed A-hole at the teenager on the basketball court and was dragged to the car by my highly embarrassed parents who were watching a tennis match nearby. I missed Walt Disney World on TV that night and didn't even understand what I had said. Life is unfair when you are a kid.

My son started to cheer up, especially when I told him about the time in second grade when I was sure I could roar exactly like a lion. So I did- in the middle of class. The worst part was that I was positive that I had done this only in my head. Was I surprised when the teacher yanked me out of my seat for a pow-wow!

As he relaxed we were able to talk again and I discovered some important information. He heard the terrible word on YouTube! He had been watching some movies about Sonic the Hedgehog. I thought that I was monitoring him more closely than that. As soon as I realized that he was wandering away from the areas that I selected as safe for him, I banned him from using it. But I was too late, the damage was done.

He also did not know what the F- word meant. So, I was forced to allow the memory of my innocent little baby to slip away, and wedge the image of a growing young man into its place. This was very painful for me. I did my best without visual aids to describe the human body and how things fit together in the way that nature had intended for the continuation of the species. This was not the way I had planned the experience to be. I also did not plan to be so uncomfortable about it. Where was the giggling teenage version of me now?

I guess the best thing about this incident was that we agreed on a hand signal that would let my son know he needed to stop talking immediately or he would run the risk of super trouble. The zip your lip now signal. I explained to him that there are many times that he might say something that was wrong for some reason that I would not be able to explain beforehand. This signal will hopefully allow us to avoid a embarrassing situation for the grown ups and keep him off restriction.

My little boy is growing up. You can't protect children from the ugliness of the world forever. It just has a way of seeping in and staining us all. I did my best to build a wall and hide my son behind it, but that wasn't enough.

YouTube! Gosh Darn it! I should have known better...


Kate Olson said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story about this - my 2 year old has just started being sassy toward me (NOT swearing by any means, though!) and my husband and I are trying to figure out just where she could have picked up phrases like, "You shut your mouth!".....I think I found the source. She really likes a book about manners that gives examples of naughty things and the RIGHT way to do things and treat people. Unfortunately she grabbed on to the wrong end of the lesson! Does this mean I shouldn't read her the book? Nope, just have to deal with telling her that we don't talk to people that way, etc and perhaps do a better job of explaining what's happening in the book.

Like you said, you thought you were monitoring your son and doing the right thing, and you were! YouTube does have some REALLY nasty stuff that I don't want my kids to see, but there are also tons of great animated Dr. Seuss books and things like that. I think it's a site that we have to use WITH our children with constant monitoring - I just SO wish there were a child-friendly channel there. Let's start a movement to get one, huh? Oh, and I absolutely LOVE the idea of a hand signal! We'll have to implement that as our kids get older :-)

K2grandsons said...

Oh, Al! You are such a good dad! I laughed hysterically as I read this because I'm safely past these experiences. As I read I remembered having the word you refered to come home on CHURCH STATIONARY in a letter about one of our boys using the word in nursery school at 4! It was ultra embarrassing at the time. We have talked about it over dinner since and it turns out the kid remembered it well and had a whole back story we didn't know at the time.
I can tell you the joys of having grown kids is just around the corner. Don't miss the ones you are having now, but it gets even better!
Keep up the excellent parenting. You are making the world a better place!