I need to clean up my language. I'm not talking about swearing, I have a pretty good lid on that since marrying a man with little tolerance for behavioral sloth. This is a guy who grew up fearing the Queen might walk into his home or onto his playground at any time. This fantasy, cleverly planted by his parents and no doubt many British parents, was extremely effective. You could pick up the earth and shake it and the guy would quietly comment, "Steady on. Is it just me or are things feeling a bit dodgy around here?"
The creative, four-letter tirades that were once a staple of my 20-something vocabulary have pretty much disappeared. Venting was something that came naturally for me. It kept me connected to my family for whom “losing it” is a family trait, modeled expertly by my father. Ian only had to witness a few X-rated episodes and register complete disapproval on his very genteel face for me to realize that it wasn’t turning him on in the least. So swearing is not an issue. At least not a big one.
What is an issue is , like, my apparent inability to express myself without, like, using the word “like” several times in a sentence. Yikes. Just two years of teaching high school and I am , like, talking like a teenager. Now I hear Esther explaining her day to me and she says, “I was like, all fusterated and Tooti was like, not even listening to me and Everett was like, 'I was sitting there,' and Eva was like, 'No that is my spot.' Whoa. Hearing that kind of speech from a four-year-old is, like, painful. And embarrassing. She shouldn’t be talking like that already, should she? And where did she learn it? Do I say, “like” that much? Really? How, like, utterly horrifying.
I suppose I am not entirely responsible for how she talks but it's hard to look into that full length mirror being held up by my child once again and not be a little alarmed at my reflection.
And if it isn't coming from me, do I have any business finding out who it's coming from and worrying about Esther's exposure to it? I suppose this is where I as a mother start to realize that as long as my child spends some part of each day in someone else's care, I have to relinquish some control and hope for the best.
I have no intention of being the snobby kind of mother my best friend from fourth grade had. This mother apparently told my mother she didn't like her daughter playing with me because of the way I talked. My mother, baffled, could only guess that it was my woodchuck Vermont accent I had acquired from my very own father as well as from Grub and Homer the mechanics who worked in a garage on our street. I used to pass by there a lot on my bike and stop to chat to my two greasy friends.
I'm not too worried about redneck accents or even overreliance on the word "like" but I do have a major problem with the word "stupid." What is it about this word that sounds so, well stupid, when uttered by small children? It doesn't bother me in the least when adults use it, but it makes me cringe when Esther says it. No one that short should be allowed to be that judgemental.
Esther’s older friend Sarah stopped by one day last winter. She is five and a half and in Kindergarten. As soon as Sarah came through the door, they fell into each other like fast friends even though they only see each other every few months. After much screaming and running around, Sarah spotted Rody the rubber horse and vigorous bouncing ensued. With Sarah on the front and Esther hanging on to her waist in the back they bounded across the floor, around and around the chimney. They didn’t make it far without falling off every which way in a heap of giggling arms and legs. It was nice to see them playing so well together. Then it came.
“That’s a stupid horse,” said Esther. “Yeah,” said Sarah. “Let’s ride the stupid horse some more.” “Giddy up Stupid,” said Sarah giddily as they remounted and rode off again. “Yeah, Giddyup Stupid,” mimicked Esther. “We’re riding Stupid, We’re riding Stupid,” they both chanted.
Prickle prickle, went the hairs on the back of my neck. "Don't call the horse stupid you guys," I called out loudly. "Why not?" they asked together. "Well...." I stalled, "Because it's not a nice thing to say that's why." "It's not a real horse mummy," Esther said. "It's a stupid horse because we keep falling off," said Sarah. The obvious reply would be to point out that they are perhaps the stupid ones since they are the ones falling off. I keep this to myself. Was it really necessary for me to force these happy children to show some respect for a rubber toy? Does respect and consideration for beast and man start with dolls and stuffed animals? And if I continue to make a big deal about this taboo word won't Esther be all the more enamored with it? Why don't they teach this kind of stuff in college ?
"We don't call people or things stupid," I said. "Let's just think of another name for the horse why don't we."
A few nights later, we were eating dinner and I asked Ian how his day at work went. "It could have been better," he said, "If those stupid people had taken my advice and bought some sand for their stupid driveway."
I looked at Esther and she raised her eyebrows and smiled at me in this slightly smug kind of way. Where's that Queen when you need her?