Welcome to Way Back Wednesday! Our new weekly feature, looking back on the more interesting learning moments in pregnancy, parenting and birth.
Before the little ones came along, I had a, shall we say, curious vocabulary. My mother always told me excessive swearing was a sign of low intelligence. Suggesting that one would only swear if they didn’t possess the vocabulary necessary to word their thought more appropriately. My mother, bless her, was totally fucking wrong. Pardon my french.
I liked swearing. I mean, I didn’t put much thought into it. It was just a handy tool, to put emphasis on certain points, use a little humour, and (most importantly) definitively state whether or not someone is a giant douchebag.
But then, I had a baby. It’s like I woke up one morning and found I had suddenly morphed into my mother. I was absolutely horrified at the prospect of my tiny, adorable baby mimicking less than savory language. I couldn’t imagine anything more embarrassing than a foul mouthed baby. I cleaned up my language at light speed.
At the time, I was working for a social service, serving high risk youth. I would bring my daughter into work with me, strapped to my chest, while I went about my work. Of course, there was a lot of swearing, from both clients and staff. I had read some article suggesting if you slip and swear around a baby, you should say a more positive word loudly immediately after. The theory being the louder, clearer word will be the one baby is more likely to repeat. I told EVERYONE. For a period of several months, an entire social service bureau was packed full of people muttering “goddamnit…CUPCAKES! I MEAN CUPCAKES!”.
Naturally, I thought I had it in the bag. My baby wouldn’t pick up bad habits. When she started to speak, surely it would be like 10% the phrase “I love my mommy” and 90% quoting Shakespeare. She’d be a very dignified baby. The classiest of babies. Which was a great plan, but unfortunately, I absolutely hate talking on the phone. I hate it. I’ll do it, of course, but I always feel awkward communicating without body language, or the clear communication of an email. I didn’t mean to, but I must have whispered unpleasant reactions to ringing phones every once in a while.
We made it to her second year. I was sitting on the couch watching her play. She was so sweet, and so tiny. And then, the phone rang. So quietly I could barely hear it, my sweet little girl muttered under her breath “Oh for fuck’s sake”. Uh oh.
Enter pure unadulterated panic mode. I’d read the worst thing you can do is freak out. I didn’t want to give the phrase weight. I was so worried she’d repeat it constantly to get a reaction out of me. So, I bit my tongue. I watched, and waited. Every time we’d have company, every time we’d visit Grandma, every quiet moment on the bus, I’d hold my breath anticipating a toddler F bomb.
She never did. They were just words. She had no sense of the weight to our words, no sense of offensive concepts. Babies mimick. It’s what they do, it’s how they develop language skills. I never swore openly around her. I policed other’s language. She still overheard a whisper, and did what children do best. Mimick.
I felt guilty about it for a long time. As if perfection is possible. As if birthing a child makes me incapable of mistakes. Saint Mom, patron saint of constant vigilance against naughty words. That’s not me. Over time I’ve learned the words my children hear me say don’t outweigh the lessons I teach them. I’m a human being. Sometimes, I stub my toe and yell dammit. My youngest has never repeated an unpleasant word at all. It’s not a focal point. It’s not something grown ups are hiding from him, shouting “cupcakes!” at every turn.
My daughter grew up. She’s kind, and wise. She gets upset when she hears words like “stupid”, she hates the idea of using words to hurt. Someday she’ll learn the intricacies of swearing. When that day comes, I trust in her ability to distinguish between using words to hurt, and using words neutrally.
My baby swore, and the world didn’t end.