explorations of mindful fatherhood


I’m a Jie-Nee

Imagine1When our son began grasping language, my wife and I set upon the arduous journey of cleaning up our own.  We vowed to stop swearing around him.  Shortly after, we also vowed to cut down on the amount of sexual innuendo peppered throughout our conversations.  Up until my son was about a year old, we were a real “that’s what she said” sort of couple.  We could make just about any statement into a euphemism.  We figured if we didn’t nip it in the bud (see, even that sounds dirty to me), our son would one day catch onto our meaning and discover that he had two pervy parents.  Not good.  So, we stopped. For the most part.

One thing we stopped was our pronunciation of words in a way that made them sound dirty.  For example, Cape Cod always lent itself to many reinterpretations or mispronunciations of town names.  Of course Assonet, MA (pronounced a-su-net) became Ass-on-it, MA.  Falmouth became Foul-Mouth and Yarmouth became Your-Mouth.  While not too dirty, one of our favorite Cop Cod lines became “Yar Mouth is a Foul Mouth” (growled in a pirate accent).

While most of our offensive language has dwindled away, remnants of the our tendency to mispronounce remain.  The other day, we were driving past a store called “Imagine” and my wife pronounced it “I’m a jie-nee”.  I laughed, and we kept driving.

“What did you say?” my son asked.

“Oh nothing,” I replied, “mom’s just being goofy.”

“Because I thought you said vagina,” he said.

My wife and I busted up in the front seat.  I was nearly in tears.  We had been found out, and by a 6-year-old!  I was laughing so hard because we were deluded enough to think that our 6-year-old boy wouldn’t have the skills or even the curiosity to crack our code, but he did.

I realized I can’t make assumptions about what he does and doesn’t know, and that he’s like a sponge, absorbing every ounce of linguistic knowledge that swirls around him at home, in school, or in the car.  He’s a bright kid, and he’s always listening.

Like I’ve written in the past, I can’t wait to be called to the principal’s office.

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Grand Pricks: Teaching a 6-Year-Old to Swear

5825299451_swear_word_xlargeI always imagined my son would know how to swear, but didn’t realize how much of it he’d actually get from his parents.

When our son was born, our family underwent a period of language transition.  My wife and I tended to swear like sailors at home.  So with the addition of an impressionable young mind in the house, we decided that we definitely needed to pull back on the language.  That is, unless we were prepared to be called into many a principal’s office in the years to come.

Thank God babies don’t understand speech in the first few months because my transition to clean language took an f-ing long time.  My wife would frequently catch me and roll her eyes and I’d apologize profusely.  I’m guessing it took about two years before I was able to prevent every four-letter word from spilling off the tip of my tongue.

But now at 6-years-old, our son is actually learning to swear.  It’s not that he necessarily hears us swear and, from what we can tell, his friends don’t seem to curse.  However, it’s still amazing how many situations a young kid can encounter that involve swear words.  And he’s an inquisitive little kid. Therefore, we’ve decided that we’re going to let him know what words mean if he asks.  There are even some words that we’ve told him we don’t mind him saying in front of us, but they aren’t for public life.

Take “ass” for example.  My son’s favorite cable stations, which he likes even more than Cartoon Network, are the Food Network and Travel Channel.  There was a time about a year ago when Andrew Zimmern said “ass” on Bizarre Foods, and our son asked us what it meant.  We explained it to him honestly and then told him that we didn’t consider “ass” to be a “really bad word”.  We said it would be okay if he used it sometimes, but only around the house and never in front of anyone else, especially at other kids’ houses or at school.  We likened it to dancing around naked: fine to do at home, but we’d have a much bigger problem if he did the same thing at school.  It was a very good conversation about what’s okay at home and what’s okay in public.

Holy cow.  I didn’t know the word ass could be incorporated into so many sentences.  Example: “My napkin fell on the floor…on its ass.”  He was extremely liberal with the a-word for about a week but, not surprisingly, it died out.  The word, as we were hoping it might, lost its power.

Recently we were driving past a go-cart place in our neighborhood called the Grand Prix, and my son asked when we could go back to “Grand Pricks”.  This certainly wasn’t the first time he referred to the place by that name, and it certainly wasn’t the first time my wife and I broke into fits of laughter at his mispronunciation of the word “prix”.  This time he asked what was so funny, and so my wife decided to tell him.

“Prick is a bad word for a penis.  If someone is being kind of mean, people might call him a prick.  But, you shouldn’t be using that word, because it’s very bad.”

“Okay,” he replied after a hearty laugh, and let it go.

We haven’t heard the word since (and haven’t been called into the principal’s office).  It’s kind of amazing that when we treated him with honesty, he understood and follow the rules when old enough to handle them.  I was also impressed by the fact that the words lost their power when he knew when and where he was allowed to use them.  I initially thought that educating him about these words would bite us in the ass, but up until now we’ve been all right.

I bet I’ll be retracting this post in the future after our first visit to the principal’s office.