It began like any other Saturday. The kids were having their weekend allotment of morning cartoons while I made them breakfast. The sun was shining on the yard beyond my kitchen window. The birds were singing. The eggs were cooking. All was right with the world.
And then it happened. My nine-year-old son, my precious first-born who I carried in my womb and nursed at my breast, for whom I dreamed the moon and stars, said two words that completely rocked my maternal world.
And then, as if I were trapped in a nightmare that wouldn’t end, my seven-year-old daughter, my sweet, Rapunzel-haired, future Ivory girl with the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, who is compassionate far beyond her years, echoed her brother.
“Tinkerbell does not suck!”
“Tinkerbell does so suck!”
“Does not suck!”
It was as though I were being simultaneously pierced in the heart as well as the eardrums. My beautiful children! My polite, well-mannered, vocabularily-advanced progenies were using the word ‘suck.’ Neither had ever used that word, nor any other foul language up to that point.
For the record, I am not a nun. I have been known to use colorful language. I ran a bar in New York City, for crying out loud. But I have always been very careful about what comes out of my mouth in front of my children. In fact, I have an internal switch I flip that turns on and off my personal Swear-Word Deleter. (Learned in childhood when we weren’t allowed to say the Lord’s name in vain, and could only use the expression ‘darn’ because ‘dang’ sounded too much like ‘damn.’) It’s damn—oops—darn exhausting, this habit of switching off the potty mouth. It takes a lot of energy to think about every word you say. But I do it so that my children won’t end up sounding like truck drivers.
Okay, I admit, the expression “that sucks” is not the equivalent of, say, Satanic worship. Still, I cannot tell you how upsetting it was to hear my children say it for the first time.
Not only was it difficult to reconcile such harsh words coming from the mouths of my innocent angels, it was harder still to accept that this expression had been learned elsewhere. They had never heard me say “that sucks.” Is it possible they’d heard my husband say it? Doubtful. For although he’s from New Jersey, and has the ability to make Tony Soprano sound like an altar boy—especially after a martini or two—he has that same internal switch I have, and is very careful around the kids. So where did they learn this expression? Elsewhere. At school. At sports. In the toy aisle at Target. (i.e. “Transformers suck, dude!”)
And this is what makes the whole situation tragic—this is where the naïveté for a parent ends. When we realize that our children are actually people, not just pets or automatons that will only say or do what we’ve trained them to say or do. They have outside influences that are beyond our control. They have their own lives. Even at seven and nine.
We mourn this realization, our lost babes who looked to us for every lesson, every cue, every need. We grieve our angelic offspring who only spoke flowery words that made TV-Y look like an R-Rated movie. We wonder what the next verbal assault will be—will they work their way up from ‘suck’ slowly, or will they head straight to the f-bomb?
But there is an upside to this painful disillusionment and evolution. We parents can relax a bit. We can set that internal Swear-Word Deleter to low. We don’t have to do penance or be racked with guilt if the s-word accidentally slips through our lips. Because if my kids can say “that sucks” then why can’t I?
And, as a parent, being able to relax, if only a little, being able to absolve ourselves of guilt over our less-than-perfect parenting skills doesn’t suck at all.