I really, really like to swear. When I was 5 I heard “peckerhead” for the first time and that was it – true love. Although, now that I think about it, I was confused because I thought it had something to do with Woody Woodpecker. But I digress.
When I was around 7, a boy with a very messy over-bite named Eddie would sometimes walk home from school with me and he knew all sorts of curse words. He didn’t know what they meant, but he could say them with such expression. He’d wrinkle his freckled forehead and all sorts of obscenities flew out of mouth, along with copious amounts of saliva. Good times.
As we all know, swearing after having children takes on a whole new level of illicitness. When the oldest was an infant, I tried to reign in the cussing because I felt like it was gross to drop an F bomb while holding the most perfect infant on the planet. But that was hard. And as he got older, mistakes that warranted a “shit!” occurred with much more frequency.
I really didn’t want the kids to swear. I blame it on modern parenting, really. We use our words and our inside voices, there really is no room in there for calling that guy who cuts you off in traffic an asshole. Plus, well, let’s be honest here – my career had been built upon working with scores of badly behaved children and they ALL swore.
I needed a solution that would work for everyone – my need to sputter profanity and the kids’ need to avoid it. In a moment of genius-like inspiration, I recalled a game I used to play with an old boyfriend in which we would jokingly call each other curse words but only by their first letter (I’m sure you can understand why that relationship worked so well, and why it ended).
That is what I started doing. Doug started doing it too. At last, I could express my true feelings in a sem-safe way. In the car – you mother effer. In the kitchen – ahhh, that b is hot. In the bathroom – what the eff?
I can’t lie – I smugly thought I had bucked the system. Ha, stupid other parents didn’t know anything – I had figured out how to swear in front of my kids and they didn’t even know it.
Then came the day when the 4 year-old, quite appropriately, said “F.O. kitty. Go away.”
I laughed about it but felt uneasy. I thought I had gotten around this? He should not be mimicking my fake swearing. WTF?
The next week, I picked him up from preschool and chatted softly with the teacher while Ella dozed in my arms. A foster child had recently been placed with us – at this point we were doing therapeutic foster care and this was our first child. Desi’s teacher, like most people, was really interested in our fostering experience, and when I mentioned the older age of this child the teacher nodded.
“I thought maybe you had an older one now, because Desi said the funniest thing…”
Oh s, I thought.
Well, every week the kids learned a new letter and one of the activities they did was create a list of words beginning with that week’s letter. They continued the list throughout the week, so that by Friday it was quite long.
This week’s letter? F.
Desi had his own word for F. He had said “I have one. F.O.”
His teachers were puzzled, and asked him what he meant. He replied,
“You know, you say it when someone is annoying you. ‘F.O.'”
I felt my cheeks redden as Ella suddenly weighed 1000 pounds and sweat broke out on my forehead. I laughed a little and agreed that this was definitely – OBVIOUSLY – related to the new foster child and not at all in any way related to my parenting choices whatsoever.
Then I got the F out of there.