Calling A Spade A Spade
My mother, I think acutely aware that our economic status already conferred a certaint amount of disdain upon us, was determined that we comport ourselves in a dignified manner. Just because we were poor, didn't mean we were trashy, and she meant to make sure that nobody could ever level such a charge against us.
She was fighting a losing battle with my Dad, (not a bad guy, my Dad, just a little rought around the edges) but she was determined to cultivate some sense of civility and decorum in her children.
For example, we were not allowed to say "fart".
She would have preferred that we not acknowledge flatulence at all, except to excuse ourselves, but being children, the volume, density and fragrance all had to be remarked upon. We were to say "pass gas". Usually, we complied, but sometimes, we rebelled by saying, "cut the cheese" because it was much funnier. It wasn't "fart" and so, we got around her edict on a technicality.
Obviously, swear words were verbotten.
One time, when he was very, very angry (and, as I realized later on when I was adult, very likely stressed beyond his breaking point) my dad said the "F" word.
That really made our jaws drop.
I remember looking at him, flush with anger, and being stunned at the profanity. My sisters and I, who had been complaining about supper (Goulash...ew), were startled into meekness. We ate every wretched bite and did our chores without a word that evening. The power of that word frightened me then.
As a child, I never heard my mother swear. But years later, when trying to salvage my disaster of a wedding, she said the "F" word on the phone. I was so taken aback that I choked on the wine I was drinking and narrowly missed drenching one of my bridesmaids. It was shocking for it's incongruity; my mother, dressed in a beautiful ivory gown, flawlessly coiffed, tastefully made-up, dropping the f bomb.
The constraints placed upon me as a child have resulted in me being less than judicious with my use of profanity now. Truthfully, it's my achilles heel. I swear like a sailor, particularly in the car.
My children mock me. On a recent outing, I grumbled about some driver doing something, which set my kids off. They began to recite my most infamous epithets in dueling falsettos. They laughed uproariously and then Pubescent One said,
"Geez Mom, roadrage much?"
But you see, swearing prevents me from using my vehicle as a weapon. Instead of aiming my two ton blue missile at those who wrong me in a trafficular manner, I just swear. I feel better, and nobody gets hurt. They don't even hear me.
My kids swear too. I know I should be more concerned about it, but honestly, I'm just not. Swearing helps me relieve tension and diffuse stress. It feels good to let one fly when one feels as if they might spontaneously combust at any moment. I firmly believe in the therapeutic properties of the f word. And I would much rather one of them let go with some good old fashioned imprecation than punch someone or knock over a liquore store.
I really take issue more with words like "retard" and "idiot" and "fatso". Words that demean and demoralize are of far more concern to me than the words that have been arbitrarily assigned the power of taboo.
Now...language is a barometer. I understand that. If you go around using speech peppered with profanity, people assume things about your character. And, injudicious use of profanity can occlude the meaning and intent of our words. Nobody wants that.
I don't use profanity in social or professional situations. I take great care to ascertain whether casual acquaintances will be offended before offering even the tamest curse word. And when I have something really important to say, I don't muddle my message with misplaced invective.
I've explained all that to my children, and really, I think they understand. But sometimes a life lesson is much more salient that wisdom imparted by dear old Mom. Diminutive One found out the hard way last year when he let fly with a particularly offensive tidbit in the lunchroom. Funny, but offensive.
It's a mistake he has not repeated.
Language is what we make of it. I think, if we forbid these words, we give them too much power. Language, as a tool, is cathartic. And swear words are just words. They don't really hurt anybody. I find it strange and ironic that we don't get nearly as outraged by words that truly wound.
My son was treated like a criminal when he said "suck my balls". (In case you are unfamiliar with the circumstances of that particular incident, you can read about it here.) But a classmate who called him a fatso was only asked to issue an apology. There were no punitive repercussions.
Does that strike anybody else as just a little fucked up?
Yesterday, I was pre-menstrual and felt a migraine looming. Pubescent One was hormonal in an entirely different way.
Volatile combination, that.
Finally, I exploded.
"You've been a giant asshole ever since you walked in the door and I'm SICK of it!!"
"I have NOT been an ASSHOLE! You're yelling at me for everything!!"
He was being an asshole, but to be fair, I was yelling at him for everything.
Later, when we had both calmed down, he came to me.
"I'm sorry I was an asshole."
"I'm sorry I was a bitch."
"You said it, I didn't."
We hugged and everything was fine.
Some of you might think it's terrible that I called my son an asshole. But he was, and he knew it. And I was being a bitch. And I knew it. I guess in this house we just believe in calling a spade a spade.
Now, if I had called him a moron, or a retard, I would not dispute the damage done to his morale and his psyche. Because those words imply some kind of inherent deficit. Some kind of wrongness. Some question regarding worth and value.
But assholishness and bitchiness are issues of free will. One can choose to be an asshole. One can choose to be a bitch. Or not to, as the case may be.
Words. They have power. But it's all about how we empower ourselves by the way we use them or don't use them.
It's up to us, bitches.