Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No More Flippin' Cursing -- by Laura Houston

It’s time to stop cursing. The pediatrician told me at our appointment on Friday that the twins are on the cusp of language where they will soon start drinking in every word and repeating it loudly. And often. Over and over. Dang it! I do enjoy a good curse word every now and again. In fact, I see cussing as an art form, as well as a type of therapy. I like the way a good explicative taps across my tongue. I like the release of their vowels through my lips.

When someone uses a curse word in an original, thoughtful manner, I know they mean what they say. For instance at the park the other day one of the mothers was discussing “Giggle,” the new, fun, and outrageously priced baby store on the Upper West Side. She said, “They have some f#%king cool high chairs in there that will make you rethink supper time.” I figured if a mother was willing to cuss in excitement over the design of an eating apparatus that it must be worth checking out. So I did. And sure enough, they have $700 high chairs in there shaped just like an egg. They swivel around and have little bars to keep the kids in just like roller coasters at the amusement park. They are f#%king cool.

But there are rules to cussing. Too much cussing is just down right trashy. It’s not OK to drop the f-bomb in job interviews, on first dates, in front of mother-in-laws, in church, at Tupperware® parties, and other similar venues. But a well-placed curse word can really make an impact. I used to work for a woman who was in charge of a lot of men at a sportswear company. Her name was Betsy. She was a Presbyterian, a Republican, a Junior Leaguer, and a runner. She played tennis and had arms so beautifully shaped that when winter arrived and the long sleeves came out, office morale went down. When Betsy executed a cuss word, well, the men stopped goofing around and got down to business. She was sexy, strong, and unstoppable when she cursed. All of the interns had crushes on her and voted her “Best Kind of Woman to Marry.” Life with Betsy would never be dull, they told me.

I spent my career working in industries where cussing is the norm. I waited tables in college, bartended, worked in advertising, was a case manager to at-risk youth, and I am a writer. A fiction writer. We need curse words placed strategically in dialog at the right time to bring a character to life or to drive home a point. They also come in handy during a marital spat.

I have tried to curb my cussing over the past year. Living in New York it’s not easy since the words “f#%k” and “sh!t” are more ubiquitous than “please” and “thank you.” The other day at the park my husband and I listened to a couple of ten-year olds talking and one of them said, “So I told him to stop taking sh!t about me or I was gonna f#%k him up.” Nice. Our boys hear cuss words from cab drivers, on the subway, in line at the bagel shop, and everywhere on the playground. I am going to have to set an example.

I am not a good example if you dissect me into small pieces. I don’t do a whole lot of anything with great consistency or conviction. Some might say I am more of a horrible warning than a good example. What not to do. How not to be. An example of what happens when you flail your way through life without much discipline or without a plan. But this is not true when it comes to being a mother. Motherhood is an area where I hope never to falter. As I type this, I still consider myself to be a good mother – a worthy mother who makes mistakes but never loses sight on what’s best for her boys and her family. I have upheld my personal doctrine of motherhood for one year, four months, two weeks and one day, so I think I might be a better example now – an example of what happens when you put your whole heart and head into what you are doing.

As a practicing good mother, I have taught my boys how to use sign language. I don’t know the sign for most curse words, but I have taught them “milk” and “food” and “more” and “please.” And they can string their signs together to say things like “more food” or “milk please.” Once in a while I get a “thank you,” or a “dog shoes,” or a “car ball.” I love seeing them capture words and wrangle them together. In truth, I would not be horribly offended if my boys could string a few curse words together in sign language. That would be preferable to them saying them out loud, but I don’t see these signs in any of the baby books on American Sign Language, so they’ll have to skip that exercise.

Even as the flailing, sleep-deprived, brain-addled, 45-year old mother of twin boys, I understand and respect the power of language. I know that language offers control. It relieves frustration. It builds intimacy. Words can heal just as easily as they can wound. And perhaps most importantly, the way we speak is the way we are perceived by the people in the world around us. I will stop cussing in order to be a better example to my boys. I’ll clean up my language, and my words will be sweet, patient, kind, and clean. And with a bit of persistence, practice and work, the next time the f-bomb gets anywhere close to our ears, it will not be out of the mouths of babes – or their mother.


Blogger rsinger said...

When my daughter was about 5, I lost an important document somewhere in our house. I ran around for about 10 minutes cursing and screaming until I found it. She watched me, slack-jawed.
Then she said "Mommy, I've heard those words before, but never from you!"
After I finished patting myself on the back for keeping it clean for her first 5 years, I asked "Where have you heard those words before?"
"Oh," she said, "A's dad has a real potty mouth!"

6:02 AM  
Blogger JulieeeC said...

My 4 yr old girl learned "damn" at Sunday school (church!) from another 4 year old boy. We tell her we don't use those words in this family. We're also trying not to say "hate" but it IS such a part of my attitude, as in, "I hate to unload the dishwasher." it's not fun to be so aware!

10:26 AM  
Blogger Liimu said...

I made it 8 years without cursing until I made the mistake of plowing in a snow bank next to the bus stop so deep my 4x4 minivan was immobilized. Everything that morning was set according to precision timing and this was not part of the plan. I let loose a string of F-bombs that left my poor daughters speechless. Fortunately, they understand the concept of grown-up drinks, grown-up TV shows, and grown-up language. The question remains (and the one I fear) is when will they decide that they're "grown up?"

6:16 AM  
Blogger Robin Gorman Newman said...

I have watched movies with my son where there was cursing...not Disney obviously. And, while I've cringed, if it was a movie that he was really liking, I'd readily explain that you know that isn't a word you should repeat. That it's not a nice word. And, at least thus far, he has grasped it.

I'm sure the older he gets, the more challenging this will become.

8:56 AM  

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