“Duck rhymes with the F-word. The bad one.”
Whew. Dodged a bullet there.
“The one spelled f-u-c-k.”
This new and interesting piece of trivia was announced by our 6-year-old, using rock concert decibels, in a relatively nice New Orleans restaurant, during a fully booked holiday dinner. Several adults turned to stare at us. A few gave knowing nods. A few gave commiserating smiles. Two kids turned to ask their own parents what my daughter was talking about. One particularly perfect woman shook her head in disapproval.
“That’s correct, and not a kid-appropriate thing to talk about. Also, I need you to use your inside voice. Thank you.”
My husband and I returned to our gumbo and talking about the upcoming Tennessee football game. My child returned to coloring a blue duck on her menu. The particularly perfect woman continued to shake her head in disapproval.
While she clearly disagreed with us, we were not taken aback by our child’s growing vocabulary. Here’s why:
I need my kid to know all the words.
Although she can draw a terrific castle, my child primarily speaks to communicate. I have never responded to an interpretive dance for a snack, nor has she ever asked for help reading by crafting a beautiful poem.
In order to speak well, she needs to know all the words. She needs to know the difference between “eager” and “anxious,” between “frustrated” and “angry.” At 6, she is collecting those words, and figuring out what they look like. She wants to sound them out, spell them out, and explore their relationship with other words and sounds.
In order to wander across that wondrous expanse, she needs to feel safe exploring them out loud. So we let her.
She needs to learn now how to use her words responsibly.
When my child says the “F” word now, I can suggest that it’s inappropriate because of the circumstance first, then because of her age next. If she pushes the issue, I can implement safe and appropriate consequences because the knowing and inappropriate choice of words often has consequences.
Let’s assume, with the particularly perfect woman, that it is wildly inappropriate for my child to explore the F-word right now.
When my teenage daughter, who is not in my presence, says the F-word, maybe the person who hears it assumes that she is inciting some S-word. And then responds with other harsh and inappropriate language, like the B-word — which leaves my child to barf out whatever escalation she can come up with, until someone intervenes, or a fight begins, or someone gets hurt.
I would much rather endure looks of passing judgment from fans of fine dining than risk my child’s well-being, especially over a word.
I don’t want words to control my child.
Words contain infinite power: to heal, to encourage, and to destroy. My child is the beautiful result of an intercultural and multiracial interaction, who was adopted by two people who look nothing like her. She is a female. She is über-competitive. She is aggressively mouthy. She is plain ‘ol aggressive sometimes.
There are, and will be, ample opportunities for words to be weaponized against her.
We will cross the verbal bridges when and if they occur. But in the meantime, I will not add power to an already powerful construct, especially when the power I would be adding would be completely artificial. There are legitimate contexts for the use of any word. If I react with horror, laughter, disdain, or amusement to words that are the sharpest of arrows, I will dull my child’s ability to accurately understand their power and handicap her ability to discern their appropriate use in the future.
Please know that while she may know the word, she certainly does not know the definition of the F-word, or “clothes hamper” if actions are any indication. But I will not fight fire with fire, lest I add to the fire. So basically, we ignore the fire and deal with more pressing issues, like “Is this our best parenting option right now?”
The answer so far has been a resounding “fuck yes.”