“FUCK YOU DADDY, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE,” screams my five year old from the jungle gym at our neighborhood park. Everyone stares. Mothers look away or, worse, noticeably move their children away from mine. Humiliated, my husband drags our son home screaming. Clearly, we are failing at parenting.
The first time he used the F-word, we thought it was funny. It was a Friday night the summer he was four. He’d missed his nap and was cranky. After some particularly testy behavior, we decided he wouldn’t go to the “Friday Night Pizza and PJ Party” at our local playspace. This didn’t sit well with him. As we walked back to our apartment from a friend’s, he turned in his stroller, pointed at us in turn, and yelled, “Your name is Mr. Fuckit! And your name is Mrs. Fuckit!”
We had to work hard not to laugh. It was all so ridiculous, this tiny person yelling curse words from a stroller. Plus, he was asleep by the time we got home — obviously the bad words came directly from fatigue. It became one of our favorite stories. An example of how precocious and headstrong our beloved son could be.
The word popped up from time to time, but we weren’t alarmed. It all seemed very innocent. Once, when my husband and I had a fight, our son admonished me, “Dad’s a fuckit. But you’re a fuckit too. Make this better.” And I did. Because, frankly, he was right.
In general, our approach was to avoid overreacting. After all, he was just testing boundaries. It was normal behavior for a five-year-old.
But when he started at a new school, everything took a turn for the worse. He’d moved from a small progressive school where kids moved around all day to a public school in which recess and PE barely existed. He went from “choice time” and daily physical activity to nightly homework and hours at a table listening to his teacher. (She has a nasally monotonous voice; I don’t like listening to her either.)
On the first day of first grade, the new teacher yelled at him: “Do your work!” He emerged from the building that day and said, “Mama, I don’t like first grade.”
When I met with her, she said: “Eventually everyone has to get in the box. Everyone has to get a job.”
“But they’re five,” I said.
As is his wont, my son befriended the other troublemaker, and together they began a reign of terror — meaning that they starting dropping the F-bomb in school. A lot. Suddenly we had a five-year-old who swore like a drunken sailor. Just last week, he got in trouble for writing FUCK in permanent marker on the floor of the first grade classroom.
I’d like to say his friend taught him, but it could have been me. (Although the friend favors “fucking asshole,” which is not one of my favorites: I’m more of a “motherfucker” girl myself.)
I should mention that I swore as a child. The only child of a single mother in the nineteen-seventies, I was raised by fashionistas and color TV. I didn’t use the F-word. But I could say “shit” and “damn,” and I knew all about Giorgio Armani’s fall collection and the right way to apply blush.
One night, a babysitter told me that God keeps a list of every curse word we say, and if we say enough of them, we won’t get into Heaven. I told her I was okay with that. So she told my mother that she wouldn’t sit for us again and that clearly she and I were going to Hell. (Aside from the cursing, we were Jews. So, you know. Duh.) My mom laughed at her. Her attitude was, What is everyone so worked up about? They’re just words.
But the other day my husband came home enraged. They had stopped into a crowded coffee shop, and my husband threatened to take our son’s Legos away if he didn’t quit throwing them around. “I’ll fuck your penis off,” the boy yelled.
Is it funny? Maybe, if it’s not your kid.
But it’s my kid, and I’m disturbed. After all, words hurt.
Occasionally, I take breaks from Facebook, that evil forum for pictures of your friends’ children, angels with bows in their hair or sand shovels in their little hands. The implication is that these children would never, ever pull the bows from their curls or hit their parents in the face with the shovel. Not these little geniuses, these baby birds named after poets, seasons, animals or admirable qualities — Fawn, Summer, Auden, Rebel and Joie. They pose, listening attentively, soaking in the precious world around their precious selves.
That’s not my son. My son is the one calling his dad a “fucking asshole” at the playground. My son is the who, while waiting online at the planetarium asks, “When are they starting the fucking movie?” My son is the one who, when asked to come up with examples of compound words, suggests “butthole.”
When my husband said that wasn’t appropriate, my son said, “Buttcrack?”
That said, my son is not violent. My son is not inconsolable or without conscience. My son has no behavioral issues apart from an intoxication with the F-word. We took him to a family therapist who found no learning disabilities or psychological conditions. According to the therapist, he is a normal kid who is frustrated in school. He is smart and angry. He is a child who, God bless him, knows his own mind and has the words to articulate it.
He visits the school social worker once or twice a week as a break from the tedium of the classroom. (He adores the school social worker; she’s extremely nice and extremely pretty.)
She said, “Can you promise me you’ll stop cursing?”
He said, “I think that’s unrealistic.”