For me, one of the hard parts of being a parent was not swearing. It was a great way to vent frustration since I was 12 years old. That year the school principal heard me yell, “Dammit!” and slam my locker door closed. I got away with just a stern warning and learned the power of bad words in the hands of a kid who got good grades. I even expanded my vocabulary to include Spanish swear words that I learned from the Venezuelan exchange student.
Yet, I knew I had to set a good example and shouldn’t swear in front of my children. Plus, I wasn’t ready to explain the meaning of those words. It wasn’t satisfying to replace my favorite swear word with “firetruck,” so I tried less-used swear words that felt just as rewarding. I turned to a phrase that always made me duck and check for lightening bolts, “Goddammit.” It was especially effective when you pushed it out through clenched teeth like a rumble of dark, smoky car exhaust.
I wasn’t ready to explain the wrath of God either, so I converted it to “God Bless!” This phrase resounded whenever I stepped barefoot into something squishy, had to deal with the toilet not working again, or discovered my kids (well, mostly Kay) had found my private stash of chocolate and cleaned me out.
“God Bless!” came out of me with a growling sensation similar to a dog who did not want to share his bone and I can’t believe my children didn’t repeat it with the same tone. Then again, what mother was going to confront me that my child dared to yell “God Bless!” to her child on the playground, no matter what tone they used.
For all my careful consideration to shelter my children from profanity, they were exposed to it anyway. They were either not interested in the power of swearing or had learned to be discreet because I never heard them swear until they were teenagers. Kay finally slipped and released a soft-spoken “Dammit!” during a competitive game at a family birthday party when she was 16. At that point I laughed and said sarcastically, “I didn’t think you knew any bad words. Did you just learn that in high school?”
She set me straight. “I learned them all on the school bus. The kindergarten kids are the ones who say the dirtiest words.” Out of the mouths of babes, for sure. I didn’t ask her if she was one of those kids cussing on the bus when she was in kindergarten. I learned long ago not to ask a question if you didn’t want to know the answer.