On the weekend I was helping Girlchild to get ready to go run some errands. We were struggling with her tights – I was bent over with her blond hair in my face and trying to get her to push her toes into the leg.
“Mom,” she said, out of the blue, “Boychild said the word [insert the sound of horns blaring].”
The word she pronounced so beautifully begins with an “f” and in a family newspaper would be followed by a smattering of asterisks, except she said it without the blaring horns and asterisks.
“Oh, Girlchild,” I blurted to my FOUR-year-old, “you really shouldn’t say that word!”
“I know,” she said sweetly, “but Boychild said it.”
“Well, he shouldn’t say it either,” I said, my mind scrambling for the appropriate approach. “That’s not a nice word – kids can get in Big Trouble for using that word, and even grown-ups shouldn’t use it.”
You all remember Big Trouble, right?
“But Boychild said it,” she insisted, because that apparently that makes it okay for her to say it. Note to self: Must speak to Boychild about bad words.
“Well,” I began, afraid to even ask my next question for fear Boychild had heard me speaking, um, harshly to my slow old computer late at night, “where did Boychild learn that word?”
“He learned it from Kid We Know at school.”
“Oh,” I said, only slightly relieved. “Well, that’s not a good word to use. We won’t use that word anymore,” I said.
For the next 10 minutes as we were trying to brush teeth and get ready to rush out the door, Girlchild obsessed (surprise!) on this nugget. “Mom, I’m sorry I said the word.”
“That’s okay, Girlchild, just don’t say it anymore.”
“I won’t.” Then, “I’m sorry I said the word, Mom.”
Sigh. I felt like I had been thrown into the Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene when the Knights Who Say Ni reveal there is a word they cannot hear. Come to think of it, maybe that scene was inspired by a conversation with a four-year-old:
Head Knight: Don’t say that word.
King Arthur: What word?
Head Knight: I cannot tell, suffice to say is one of the words the Knights of Ni cannot hear.
King Arthur: How can we not say the word if you don’t tell us what it is?
Knights: Aaaaugh! Aaaugh!
Et cetera. I think the Knights’ dastardly “it” is slightly less offensive than Girlchild’s [insert sound of horns blaring].
I actually remember when that sweet and charming word left my lips in the presence of my parents for the first time. I don’t think I was all that much older than Girlchild – maybe a bit closer to Boychild’s age. We were all seated around the supper table, and I remember asking, “What does [insert sound of horns blaring] mean?”
It would be appropriate to remember a choking sound at that point, but I recall a short silence and then I think Dad said something about it not being a nice word and we shouldn’t use it and “where did you learn that?” An older boy on our street was the culprit then.
I believe there was a gap of nearly 15 years between then and the next time they heard me emit the sound of horns blaring. (Because I have only ever said that word twice. Ahem.) Mom and Dad were driving my roommate and me home to Perth for a weekend shortly after we had started our first year in residence at Carleton University. It had been an exciting time of, apparently, unbridled swearing in the absence of our parents.
The question from the front seat was something like, “How’s the weather been?”
My response was that it had been “[insert sound of horns blaring]ing hot.”
That surprised everyone, let me tell you – especially me. I clapped my hand over my mouth so fast and hard it actually stung. That reaction very likely saved me from Big Trouble.
And what is Big Trouble, you might ask? I have no idea. I guess I’ll have to figure that out before the next time we hear the sound of horns blaring in our house.
Published in The Perth Courier, Jan. 12/09