After I’d lived in Colorado for two years and had reached the ripe old age of 21, I figured I was a goddamn adult. During an extended visit back to my parents’ house, there was a gathering of friends and acquaintances from the church in which I grew up. Through my somewhat inflated sense of maturity, I assumed that I no longer needed to refer to one of the church elders as Mister Last Name.
We were both grown-ups, right?
One casual ‘Thanks, Al’ later and the conversation went from friendly to frigid. The diminutive gentleman (who towers over my childhood memories) glared icicles through my soul and then huffed away.
Formality, etiquette and what is deemed ‘appropriate’ behavior are some of the most divisive lines between societal norms within our country. The words which come out of our mouths, the order in which they occur and the way we address other people bring with them tidal waves of assumption. Regardless of the intention behind them, or the character of the person speaking, the right words in the right places open doors while the wrong words can slam them shut just as quickly.
This is why I don’t swear around my kids.
Not even a little bit, in fact. After the inappropriate bravado of my first post, I started reflecting on the duplicity of this situation. I write a blog called ‘Four Letter Words’ but I won’t swear around my own children?
Ever since their verbal long-term memories started to form- let’s call it two year old- the fucks and the shits have not made an appearance in my talk to or around them. I think I’ve slipped up with a ‘hell’ or ‘damn’ every now and then, but only under my breath. For all my rhetoric about embracing the ruder side of life, I am still squeamish about sharing it with my kids. I wait until they go to bed and then swear like a sailor over dishes to make up for it.
I do have an excellent array of alternate curse words to use. I began collecting those stand-ins when I worked as a camp counselor, moving through Outward Bound instructing, student teaching and then five years in an eighth grade Language Arts classroom. I have a great ‘kid switch.’ But that is for a different post.
Why don’t I want my kids dropping adorable toddler F-bombs?
The short, honest, answer is probably social programming. Most parents who had a good childhood want to raise their kids the same way they were raised. I am no different.
On deeper examination, however, the motivating factor for me is ‘code-switching.’ I want them to establish language habits that allow them to move comfortably between groups and areas in society. I want them to hear the impact that a casual ‘fuck it’ has on a conversation in the wrong context.
Of course, what I love about mountain communities is the extreme informality. It is a large part of why I moved out here as soon I realized a place like this existed. Jeans can take you through any night out (except for maybe three places in Aspen?), footwear is always function first, fuck fashion, and casual conversations among strangers are the norm. I love being a part of a community that embraces the natural consequences of living in the mountains, which forces us to shave off most of the embellishments of etiquette.
I understand, however, that my children may, and should, want to live somewhere else at some point in their lives. Of course, they’ll come running back after a few years at most, because why would you live anywhere else? (A mom can dream)
While students in the Aspen school district call all their teachers by their first name, and most adults in the Roaring Fork Valley introduce themselves to my children by first name, this is just not the reality in the vast majority of our country. Even as near as Grand Junction and some areas near Denver, but most definitely in the South or East Coast, adults expect a different form of address from kids.
If and when they choose to explore the world, I want them to be able to project the self they want others to see, not the identity assigned to them by stupid fucking rules they don’t understand.
I’m also too tired to have the ‘Do what I say, not what I do” argument with my oldest because he would probably win it.
Two more relevant points. I want my kids to enjoy swearing. The best way for a parent to ruin something for their children is to use it all the time, so for their sake, I will hold off, at least for a few more years.
Finally, the saddest irony of this situation is that parenting provides so many perfect moments which beg for profanity. The tantrums, the lost items, the rejected food offerings, the broken…everythings. I’ve usually lost out on at least four or five excellent ‘shit’ opportunities by eight o’clock in the morning.
But those are the sacrifices we make for our children.