Thursday, March 08, 2007

I try not to swear

in front of the children. I don't try hard enough, though, because they hear more language than they should, and I'm not proud of this. So, here's my attempt at weaseling out of full culpability: Swearing, for me, is usually a reflexive thing. I bang my head on the open door of a hanging cabinet (because I'm so nearsighted that I'm *this close* to being legally blind, and when I'm wearing my glasses instead of my contacts my peripheral vision is a great Gaussian blur surrounding two little windows of clarity). Or I slice my finger instead of the tomato. That sort of thing.

I remember well my first taste of willful cussing. I must have been about seven or eight, and we kids were hanging out on the front lawn - my brother, myself, the neighbor kids. And I don't know what got into me. Maybe it was frustration at reaching the age where I realized it was no longer appropriate to take my shirt off (like the neighbor boy did) and play in the big, fresh pile of landscaping dirt in front of his house. But I don't remember being frustrated.

I do remember wanting to show off. Looking back now, I think of Ralphie from the movie A Christmas Carol, whose father "wove a tapestry of profanity which to this day is still hovering somewhere over Lake Michigan." I doubt that my own swearing binge was very artful that day, but I do know that it was effective. As soon as I was done with my little teeny-bopper Tourette's rampage I noticed my brother, who was staring at me across the lawn like my hair had just turned into a nest of snakes. He tried to tell me too cut it out NOW, but that, of course, was only an excellent incentive to figure out more bad words to shout into the early spring air.

And that was all she wrote. Some people who have to cart oxygen tanks on wheels everywhere they go remember their first smoke back in the fifties (pompadour, poodle skirt, Frankie Valli playing on a jukebox somewhere, etc.). I remember my first cuss. I remember the heady cocktail of liberation and shame, the shock and awe those words coming out of my mouth seemed to cause in the other kids running around on our lawn that day. I don't remember liking the taste of that cocktail exactly, but it didn't matter. Like the first pinch of Copenhagen to a snuff queen, those words were an addictive substance that I now hope won't hook my own kids. Which is why I try not to swear in front of them.

Which brings us to this morning, and my report of half-victory. I didn't exactly swear in FRONT of my daughter, who was busy playing at the coffee table while I collapsed into the recliner and cracked open Billy Collins' "The Trouble with Poetry (and Other Poems)." Collins is the former Poet Laureate of the United States (2001-2003), and he's one of the featured authors at the Northern Arizona Book Festival this year. And it was his poem,"Statues in the Park," which caught me so off guard (so soon after taking that first sip of my addictive morning coffee) that I just barely managed to keep my mouth shut as the words "Holy sh*t" popped into my brain.

Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy of this book.


  1. Lorelei10:42 AM

    I really don't swear that much, and pretty much not at all in front of the kids who think that "shut up" is hard core swearing when it comes out of my mouth, but said husband....lordy lordy! Was he a truck driver in an earlier life that I don't know about? It became clear early on that he would not be able to curb that mouth, so we decided on a different tactic. Adults can swear, kids can't. Double standard, yes, but I'm completely comfortable with that. Adults have a lot of vocabulary words to choose from (including grandma & grandpa who can get pretty foul-mouthed themselves) and sometimes they choose the wrong words. Kids (we tell them) need to build their vocabulary and use different words. When they are big, they can choose to use nasty words or not, but WHEN YOU'RE UNDER OUR ROOF you watch your sassy mouth.

    Somehow that rationale has worked and I've heard the girl say under her breath after grandpa says sh*t for the tenth time, "Bad choice. Bad choice."

    Plus, I swear that one of the grandmas does not know the biological anatomical terminology for the male and female anatomy. She is all about the nasty slang words. What's up with that??

  2. Lor, that "Bad choice" bit cracked me up. I can SO see Miss E. saying that. Wish I could say the same thing to myself in time when one of those bad choices pops out.

  3. I love Lorelei's comment!!

    We havea double standard too! Of course "shut up" is completely taboo because it's all disrespectful. But you see, big Daddy has been known to have a foul mouth and was raised by a Cockney dad who swears colourfully in British and an upper class mum who swears grammaticallky correctly!

    Whenever Jethro's on the phone swearing the kids roll their eyes and say "Daddy's on a business call again." Cussing is regular in the music biz.

    We have taught them that they can't swear at the table, at Grama's or in church. Or at school. And I really don't want to hear cusswords come out of their mouths. But if Grama swears it's ok. And if Granny swears, well, who's gonna stop her?

    However.... we have made a special exception. You can say it if you're standing in it. Here's the funny part- if they don't want to help in the barn I just tell them they can swear if they come out. I"m such a bad parent.

    Nicole I loved your description of your big cuss moment!!! (Must look up Billy Collns...)

  4. I think I got started swearing just about the same way you did. But I'm pretty sure once I got started, I had a brother or two egging me it must be their fault! ;)