We were so, so good.
I mean, really good.
Though our vocabularies as perennial students were certainly “academic,” it is safe to say that for the longest time they were also rather “colorful.”
My husband and I could swear with the best of them. And though it’s nothing in which I take particular pride, it is safe to say we could fit in nicely—at least conversationally– with any group of metaphorical sailors.
But everything changed in August 2004 with the arrival of our first son.
We made a commitment to stop swearing—completely. And like anyone who quits anything cold turkey, we were unabashedly horrified if anyone deigned to utter an off-color word or phrase within earshot of our tiny, impressionable boy.
Our steadfastness to this new mode of expression continued unfailingly through the arrival of our second son in 2005 and our third in 2009. And while disuse didn’t diminish our vocabularies, we simply refused to swear in front of our children.
I was ten years old when my first swear let loose—at least publicly. My grandmother, herself a purveyor of the irreverent, heard it, and I was horrified. She looked at me and instead of punishing me simply said, “Swears are a part of life. Just tell me when you can swear and when you can’t.”
I posited, a bit weak having been caught off-guard, “Umm . . . I shouldn’t swear at school.”
She told me I was correct.
So I added, now able to bask in the glow of her magnanimity if not rationality, “I am guessing I can swear in front of you.”
She smiled a wry smile and left the room, and I was left with my thoughts. I have always loved and been fascinated by words, all words. As I grew older and began to understand the nuances of diction, of connotation and denotation, the myriad lines in the sand regarding which words were appropriate and when and where, I became more judicious. When I have sworn, it was always deliberate.
But I didn’t want my children to hear me swear—at least not when they were children. It struck me as a reasonable approach and an achievable goal. Of course I knew “once they started school,” they would hear words from other children. I just didn’t want them to be the playground instructors in the semantics of profanity.
Yet my plan has backfired—and then some. And while I have yet to receive any “official report,” if their at-home vocabularies are any indication, they are fully qualified to teach.
We have tried ignoring their language lest we make too big a deal; we have issued consequences. Nothing quells their expression. Swearing does not make them laugh, doesn’t make them feel as though they’re doing something wrong. They don’t seem to glean any sense of amusement or power from it. It’s simply a mode of communication they have chosen to use with one another.
And I’m left with why.
Why, when we have been such paragons of right speech, are we currently presiding over three young boys who can hurl expletives with nothing short of complete aplomb?
I can’t say . . . though I suspect it has much to do with the fact parenting has less to do with simply modeling and more to do with instructing and empowering—precisely the approach my grandmother took so many years ago.
Controlling the words that come out of my children’s mouths is not my job. Teaching them to control them is.