My first daughter SweetPea was a very late talker, and this gave me ample space to learn to curb my potty mouth. In my defense, I worked first with sailors and then with a journalist; both seemed to embrace the abundant use of expletives on a daily basis.
Say what you want about how you wouldn’t have fallen prey, stick a person in a room for a week with an up-talking teenager or former valley-girl, and I assure you they will be infected by these atrocious and highly contagious conditions. Swearing is no different.
Pea, who is all of four-and-a-half, never went through the parroting phase most kids go through or at least not in a significant way. This meant that if my husband or I did slip up, we were at a very low risk of having her repeat it. Unlike a friend of mine with two- year-old-twins who, upon moving to Brooklyn and trying to make their way off the Brooklyn Bridge, missed the exit and swore loudly. I’ll never forget his description of the moment where time slows and you think you may have gotten away with your transgression. Reality snapped him back when seconds later, a duet of curses launched on a repeat loop from the two backseat boosters.
Little Plum, my second, was a precocious talker. She started early, in full sentences and quickly moved to parroting comfortably in any language she hears. I always figured I’d get myself into a pickle at some point, but I assumed it would be with her. Turns out she wasn’t the witness but the cause of sorts.
Sometime before Christmas, I managed to say ‘oh shit’ twice in 24 hours. And to clarify by twice, I mean in two instances but the actual phrase was repeated high-capacity style if you know what I mean. I realise that sounds unthinkable. but the first time at least, I feel I had just cause. Plum, who was all of two, had locked herself in her room in our new house. I was still waiting on a complete set of keys to all the doors, which I’ll have you know I requested prior to signing the lease as I am blessed with the gift of foresight or, is cursed with the knowledge that inevitably what can go wrong will go wrong. Either way, I perched on the terrace, outside her safety-grilled windows; frantically dialing our landlord with one hand, while pushing my hand up against the mosquito screen through the bars to sooth my little naked and distressed inmate.
I was completely freaking out at the time and regretted as soon as I said it. I, like my friend, had a slo-mo moment where I thought I’d narrowly escaped but no such luck. SweetPea started repeating it, less out of curiosity and more of solidarity given my state of high anxiety. I quickly turned to her and trying to compose myself, explained:
‘oh Maman shouldn’t have said that, it is a bad word’
And nothing more was said by anyone…until later that night.
Come evening, I was tired both physically and emotionally and decided to allow myself a glass of wine a little earlier that usual. Ok yes, I’ll admit it was still daylight out. As I tried to pour a glass, I lost control of the plastic knob and ended up spilling most of the contents on the floor. Unbelievably, I said it again! In front of Pea, again. She was now looking at me slightly perplexed.
Again, I found myself explaining why Maman shouldn’t have said it. but this time she wasn’t buying my story and the urge was simply too strong. She started repeating it, trying it out in different sentences. It wasn’t in a taunting fashion but just as a ‘oh so you shouldn’t say this word sort of thing but why not. I may not be able to get my hands on mommy juice or high shoes in my size but this I can control.’ At least that is how I perceived her line of thinking.
In the end I went to my ‘go-to’ rectifying which was “Santa Claus will be very unhappy with me, and I probably won’t get any presents. I must not say that, and people don’t appreciate little girls who use bad words” etc…
Pea, being the kind and generous-hearted kid that she is, told me she would be happy to share or even give me the gifts Santa brings her and not to worry. She also suggested I say “oh dear” instead, next time.
Now if only I could get Little Plum to stop using the French word for ‘seal’ or ‘phoque’ when she is talking about animals in English!