Yup. My sweet little fella spent yesterday trying it out for size.
The first time he said it, I ignored it, assuming I’d misheard, so odd it sounded coming out of his mouth. And then he did it again in my ear a little louder. Leaving me in no doubt that it was, indeed, an expletive leaving his lips. And while I was a little taken aback, I wasn’t horrified. Kids hear stuff at school, and try it out for size at home to gauge the reaction they’ll get. I took it as a sign that he felt safe enough to experiment round the breakfast table, I was pretty chilled, explained that we don’t use that language in our family, and that I didn’t want to hear it again. I quietly patted myself on the back for handling it so well, and thought I’d laid it to rest. I was a little bit rattled when it got used a couple more times later in the day – my message to him became a little more strident, a bit sterner, but I reassured myself it was all good. Natural. A part of his social development.
And then this morning I discovered he’d done it at school too. And when he was challenged by his teacher, he claimed (falsely, I think…) that he’d learned it from his sibling. Shame and double shame! Internally, my defences were racing – I had been dropped into survival mode from a great height. In my head, I imagined that the teacher had decided that we were now a FAMILY of potty mouthed folk, f-ing and blinding our way through the day. Truth be told, I swore (in my head, I promise) when I found out what he’d done.
And I stopped feeling quite so groovy about it all.
He had taken his linguistic experiment out of the safe-zone of our house, shared his new (and I hope temporary) potty mouth more widely. Opened us up to scrutiny. Made a bad choice in ‘public’.
And of course I reassured his teacher that we are giving the same clear message as she is about his use of this word. And felt compelled to explain that this is NOT a word he hears adults or children use at home. And she was as polite, kind and reassuring as I hoped she would be. But as I was making these noises, saying the ‘right’ thing, my words started to sound a bit hollow. Because it dawned on me that my words, while true, could not change what she thought of me. They could not erase the ideas she may or may not have formed in the time between my child’s misdemeanour and my conversation with her. They could not undo what he had done. The f-word was out there.
And that’s a hard thing to sit with. That’s why parenting in public is so damned uncomfortable sometimes. Because our little kids go out into the world with their whole self on show. They’re sad, they cry, they’re angry, they tantrum, they hear a new word, they use it. They won’t always behave like the people we think we’re raising them to be. And despite our best efforts to do so, we can’t always control that, we don’t always know how to handle it when it happens. They force us to be ‘seen’ by the outside world as the uncertain, unsure, flailing human beings we actually are, the parts of us which are easier to keep hidden away when we are in the ‘adult’ world. Which is exposing. And makes us want to defend our parenting, our kids, our families. But in reality, we can’t control what others are going to think of us. They will think what they think because of who they are, not because of what we (or our kids) do (I love this piece of wisdom. I borrowed it from Don Miguel Ruiz – author of The Four Agreements) . But we can choose to remember that we are all flawed, we all feel shame, we all feel exposed sometimes. Which helps me feel a bit less frantic. A little bit less defensive.
But I sure as heck hope he’ll keep his trap shut today.