“YOU SAID A BAD WORD TO ME!!” my daughter Sasha, 7, cried, shocked, after I had, in fact, said a bad word to her. I loudly think lots of bad words to my children, but rarely do they come out of my mouth in their hearing. The bad word in question was “damned,” as in Lady MacBeth’s, “Out, out, damned spot,” Queen of the Damned, and, of course, Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don’t (a.k.a., life with twins, which I am living).
I had kept it clean the first three times I asked her to please stop putting her light-up Twinkle Toes Sketchers on the hump in the middle of the back of the taxi, where Viv’s feet naturally rested when they hung down directly from her legs. Even if sister kicking was not her intention when she swung her feet with some force in the direction of her sister, Vivian experienced the perception of being kicked, so could she please…etc. It was the end of a long day of travel, and all three of us were frayed and thirsty and both of them had been doing things like holding one finger two molecules away the other’s cheek and then protesting, “But I wasn’t actually touching her!” I was depleted, and two old ladies and a hipster couple actually moved away from us on the train, my children were so annoying.
So, shocker, request number four came out like this: “Move your damned feet and stop kicking your sister!”, immediately followed by horror and disbelief that Mommy Freakin’ Sunshine would use a “bad” word.
Of course, I don’t want my girls to learn to curse, and I wish I hadn’t done so myself. But unlike when I was a young(er) mom, I felt no need to apologize for the emotions behind the expletive. In fact, I felt somewhat proud that I hadn’t dropped the F-bomb. That showed remarkable restraint, given that at that moment I would have killed for a Coke Zero. These small personal mom victories that no one witnesses because you’re usually alone with your children when they happen are the only things that keep me going sometimes.
Back when my girls were little, pre-Formerly, I felt that being angry, annoyed, bored witless or unmoved by the joys of motherhood at any given moment made me a rotten mom, destined to have effed up kids. Now, I believe otherwise. It took crossing into not-young territory to fully get that you feel what you feel when you feel it, even if you’d rather not. And then it passes and, generally speaking, you feel better. It makes being a mom a hell of a lot easier. Sorry. Heck of a lot easier.
“If you ignore me four times, you have to expect me to get angry,” I said to Sasha. “How would you like it if I ignored you?”
“But you still shouldn’t use that word,” Sasha sniffed at me. “That’s why they call it a bad word!” Calmer, I conceded that I shouldn’t have, but reminded her that she really should have listened the first or at least the second time I asked her to do something. She grunted agreement and it was over. I have no idea if my cursing will make her more likely to listen in the future. Likely, it’ll have no effect.
The taxi incident got me thinking about “bad” words, though. Impolite, crude, that I get. But “bad?” What freaked Sasha out about the word “damned” was how angry I sounded saying it–we’re not religious and she doesn’t know what it means. Like all words, it’s just a symbol for something else, in this case extreme pissed-offness, which I don’t think is such a horrible thing if you learn from it.
Vivian once told me that someone at school told her that the word “stupid” was a bad word. I told her it wasn’t, but that calling a person stupid was unkind, as was saying someone’s idea was stupid, especially in front of her. Thinking some things are stupid shows that you’re a discriminating individual; thinking that all things are stupid shows that you’re a snob. Words can be handy, either way. And “fat,” of course, is seen as a bad word, when it’s merely a descriptive, like brown or fuzzy. It’s impolite to comment on someone’s body, to be sure, but what’s bad about the word itself is all the unfair connotations that are associated with it as applied to people. No one minds a big fat wallet.
So I have a few questions, because I’m a little obsessed with this topic. I’d love to hear your thoughts:
1. do you curse more or less now that you’re a Formerly (assuming you are)?
2. what are some words you sub in for the words you’d really like to be saying, assuming you have the presence of mind I didn’t have in the above example?
3. do you think there’s a such thing as “bad” words? Hate speech that incites violence would qualify in my book, but what about salty talk and the like?