My Preschooler Can Outswear Your Preschooler

The Power of a Word


"Mom, when is it OK to say 'fucking'?" Max asked me as we pulled up in front of his preschool.

I turned around to look at him. "That is a very bad word. We just don't say that word. We definitely do not say it at preschool, or in front of friends or neighbors, or in front of family, or in front of anyone."

He looked at me, a smile playing at his lips. "But when?"

Deep breath. "If you absolutely must say that word, you can say it when you are all by yourself in your bedroom, so no one else can hear you. You never say it around anyone else."

I am a big fat liar. Max learned the word from me, in fact. I tend to curse like a sailor when I'm tired or stressed or angry (not rare conditions for me, it seems). I try not to drop the f-bomb around the kids, but I suppose I have. Which is why yesterday Max said, in front of our friends and neighbors, when we were talking about his new pet worms, "What are their fucking names?" You could tell from his face that he knew it was a bad word and he was testing our reaction. The other mom managed not to laugh. I managed not to melt into a mortified puddle into the sidewalk. The other child managed not to repeat it.

I told Max very sternly that we do not use that word.

Anyway, so back to the car this morning, when he was wondering when he could use that word.

"If someone is trying to kill me, can I use that word?" he asked. I tried not to laugh. Because, see, despite all the banalities I record here, we actually live a very gangsta lifestyle, and every night we're just lucky we made it through another day, what with the constant drive-by shootings and stuff that, you know, our family is involved in.

[Seriously, kid, if someone is TRYING TO KILL YOU?? Where do you LEARN this stuff??]

Self-defense and survival are not the question, though. My three-year-old's very reasonable question is, if someone is trying to kill you, can you use a very bad word that you are not supposed to use?

I don't know. Maybe it's OK then.

I brought him into school and warned the preschool teacher about his new vocabulary. I even confessed the part about "if someone is trying to kill you...". To my relief, she didn't immediately call Child Protective Services. Instead, she looked very thoughtful. "Hmmm. So he really understands that the word is very powerful."

Powerful, yes! It's not that he has a crass mother--we're actually exploring the power of language! Our home is one big semiotics laboratory!

"Sometimes what parents do come up with another word, with the child, that the child can use instead," she said.

"Like, say, 'frogging'?" I asked.

"Yes, or 'flicking,' something along those lines."

So now it is time to teach Max some new words. And, yes, probably teach myself some new words, too. It is about frogging time I stopped swearing, right?



Julia Magnusson


Twitter: @notlikeacat


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