I visited briefly with my parents last weekend (No! That's not what the cussing is about!). They were recalling a family vacation, taken when I was quite young. I told them I had one and only one very clear memory from that trip. We were looking at airplanes - I don't know if there was an air show or a museum or what - but there were lots of small planes. Like boats, most had a name and many were elaborately painted. One plane in particular had a picture of a red-headed pin-up girl posing provocatively painted on its side. This plane was called "The Strawberry Bitch". Old enough to sound out words, but not old enough to understand this particular word combination, I asked what 'bitch' meant. My mother turned the most interesting shades of reds and purples and said something on the order of, "That's a bad word! I never want to hear you say that word again, do you understand me? Never!" Her eye was twitching and she was pretty shaken up. I like to imagine that my sister and I looked at each other and smiled. "Bitch!" one of us would say - the whole rest of the day - causing the whole reaction all over again. In fairness to us, she really should have just calmly explained to us what it meant and why it was bad. But she didn't. She just gave it - and us - power. I remember later that night, returning to our travel trailer. My sister and I made a game of hiding in all the spots we could fit into that we knew she couldn't and yelling "BITCH!" periodically. I'm not positive, but I think by the end of the night Mom may have been weeping.
Before you think my sister and I are TOO awful, please remember that we had absolutely no idea what this word meant. Honest.
Flash forward. I'm a mom with children of my own. They are clamoring for ice cream. As I am scooping it out, they are standing so close to me I can hardly breathe. The dog wants in on whatever action is taking place, so she starts jockeying for position, too. They bump me and a scoop of ice cream lands squarely on the dogs head. Before I have a chance to think, I've exclaimed, "SHIT!" The moment it's out of my mouth I'm sorry. I get on my knees - eye level with the little girls - and say, "I am so sorry. I said a bad word and I shouldn't have. I'm very sorry that I said that. Do you forgive me?" My eldest immediately offered her forgiveness and I thanked her. Off she went with her ice cream.
The youngest held back. "I forgive you, Mommy, but I don't know what bad word you said. I only heard you say shit." She had the sweetest little baby voice...
"That's the bad word."
"Shit is a bad word?"
"Yes. Please stop saying it. I'm very sorry I said it." It was starting to sound REALLY ugly by now.
"But I don't even know why shit is a bad word. Shit doesn't SOUND bad. Why is shit bad, anyway?"
She's said it five times by now, if you haven't been keeping the tally.
By this point my husband has removed himself to the next room and is doing that silent laughing thing in my direct line of vision. You know it. It's the laughing you do when you know it's completely inappropriate to laugh but you couldn't stop yourself if you tried and the harder you try to stop the worse it gets. His face was red. I'm pretty sure he was producing tears. His whole body was shaking. He wasn't gonna be any help.
Well, shit. How am I gonna get out of this one?
But get out of it I did.
Being the (ultra-classy) super-genius that I am, though, I didn't learn from my mistake. A month or two later the eldest is in kindergarten. The youngest is in pre-school, but this was one of her days off. She was playing downstairs. I was folding laundry upstairs with the door shut. There was a floor and a door between us. I took a phone call that frustrated me. Upon hanging up, I quietly muttered, "stupid, fucking stupid."
Immediately I hear, "Awwwwwwwwwww!!!!! Mommy said a baaaaaaaad word!!!!!!!"
The little pitcher had made her way upstairs while I was on the phone, big ears and all.
You know the drill. Down on my knees. Eye level. Hands on shoulders.
"I sure did, and I'm not very proud of myself. I'm sorry I said that and I'm sorry you heard it. Will you forgive me?"
She maintained eye contact and said, very sincerely, "I do forgive you, Mommy. But you know you should never say stupid."