That Time You Cursed Like a Toddler -- The wisdom of a foul mouth
In her defense, it was a sweltering July day in New Orleans. In my defense, I had valiantly objected to what led up to it.
The Girl was barely three-years-old and sat in the seat of the shopping cart (or buggy as my people call them) while I transferred a week’s worth of groceries from the buggy to the trunk of my van. We’d only been outside for about two minutes tops, and already sweat was dripping from my hairline onto the cases of La Croix and gallons of milk I was hauling. In spite of putting forth zero effort, The Girl wasn’t any better off. Her little cheeks were flushed and she sat there in her polka dot romper squinting in the bright summer sun.
She let out a relenting sigh and said, “Mommy, I’m just gonna say it.”
I broke away from the groceries and braced myself.
“It’s fucking hot!” The Girl said it like she did me a favor, like I wouldn’t have understood exactly why I needed to shower after doing something as menial as loading groceries unless she cleared up the great matter for me. She just sat there, deadpanned, and nodded like, C’mon, you know it is.
I began the clean-up immediately. The “Oh, no dear...we don’t use words like that,” the “Let’s think of other ways to say we’re hot...maybe it's really hot or very hot,” and all the other natural reflexes. Then I snapped her into her car seat and called my husband.
“Do you want to know what your three-year-old just said?” I emphasized her age because cursing is like alcohol or self-loathing, something we grow into. Not something we bust out in a parking lot when we’ve only just learned how to eat with a spoon.
“You know this is all your fault.” We both knew it was all his fault, but I found it important (and therapeutic!) to remind him.
Daddy had a potty mouth that Mommy had spent seven and a half years trying to clean, and now Mommy’s angelic, baby girl, who loved to wear tutus and twirl, used “fuck” both grammatically and effectively when describing a kind of heat that makes hell appear refreshing.
My parents never cursed. At least not in front of us. They expressed intense feelings in other ways. For example, if Pop said, “Doggone it,” we knew he was pissed. If Pop said, “Doggone it!” followed by the slamming of papers or a fist pounding, we knew to clear the room. Mom was a little more complex. We had to take the height of her voice and multiply that by the intensity of her eyes and then divide the sum into whatever the circumstances were. Never one to ace a math class, I consistently found myself screwing this up. Trigger scenarios included questions she could never possibly know the answer to, (“Mom, do you think it’ll rain at three o’clock two weeks from today because I really want to wear these shoes to a party, but they can’t get wet?”) saying I was bored (“Oh, I’ll give you something to do!”) or God forbid, asking her to predict the future a second time (“I don’t know if it will rain! I don’t have a crystal ball!”) These scenarios often led to Mom throwing her hands in the air in exasperation and me meekly asking, “Yeah, but what do you think the weather will be?”
All the same, I’m pretty sure Mom could predict the future. She just never owned up to her special power. Kind of like Superwoman. And besides, those were all scenarios in which my parents were aggravated. So if they didn’t curse when driven to the brink of insanity, they certainly didn’t curse when Tulane fumbled a ball, or when they spilled their coffee, or if they were standing in a parking lot on a particularly hot July day.
So I approached cursing tentatively. I remember saying “what the hell” for the first time at the lunch table and looking over my shoulder as if Mom was in the cafeteria behind me. Being the youngest, I was exposed to the drama of my older siblings, who didn’t exactly adopt Mom and Pop’s prudity toward cursing. I remember Pop being in an argument with one of my siblings (I don’t know who -- when you’re seven and they’re all in college, they sort of blend together) and pleading to them, “You don’t need to say that.” I don’t know what they said because I was hiding behind the door, but whatever “that” was, I certainly wasn't going to say it.
Until I did. Until I finally reached that age when cursing became so commonplace that it felt subpar to stub my toe and not say, “son of a bitch!” When saying under my breath, “asshole,” as my crush walked passed me, continuing to not know I existed, seemed like the only reasonable option. Or, when that one job lead after college, the one that would have legitimately put my polarizing degree to use, fell through because the politician I was supposed to work for got caught with his pants down, and so I yelled, “MOTHERFUCKER!” until I felt better.
Science backs me up. Science says that cursing through pain triggers your brain to dull the pain. Science also says that punching in a few four-letter words during a workout propels you forward, and that people who curse are happier because they get their feelings out more effectively. Moreover, science says that fluency in cursing is a sign of intelligence. (I shit you not. See “Discover Magazine”.) The basic gist is that having a plethora of vocabulary is a sign of superiority in language and that cursing is a rhetoric skill -- a skill!
Still, I’m fairly certain Mom’s other Superpower is that she can hear me every time I do curse. I’m pretty sure Pop had intended for me to not say “that” as well. This is why the F-word rarely makes it into this blog. Because I’m 41 years-old and still afraid of my mother. Because Mom reads my blog (sometimes the only one to, let’s be honest) and she lives with me, and I’m still bad at math, thus still witness to her hands-in-the-air exasperation enough to not add “fuck” to scenarios today. (Sorry, Mom, for saying “that”.)
This is also why when our oldest child began to babble, I began pinching my husband every time he cursed.
“Ouch!” he'd say.
“I don’t want my baby’s first word to be shithead!” I'd whisper.
This went on for years. Me emulating my parents by saying “shucks” and “doggone it” in front of my kids and pinching my husband until I finally gave up because no one’s first word was shithead and because, even though I’m still afraid of my mother, I also know that curse words are a pathway to authenticity.
I had an English teacher in high school, a legend, actually, who I’m still in awe of. Whenever she comments on any one of my blogs I feel like Sally Field at the Oscars. (“She likes me! She really likes me!”) This badass woman had a strict policy on truth. If we were going to write an essay, a perspective on Huck Finn, for example, or a reflection on Tony Robinson, or if we were to author an original work with meaty characters, she wanted the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So she allowed us to curse in our work -- a liberating concept for a fifteen-year-old who’d grown up with “doggone it.” But the catch was that we had to use the words correctly. Cursing wasn’t something to be done willy-nilly. Cursing required commitment and a solid understanding of language. Thus, one of our first assignments was to write out the definitions of every curse word, analyze their parts of speech, and use them in a sentence. Only then could we punch up our writing with language that was normally taboo. And I tell you this, the work that came out of her classroom was superior -- gutsy, compelling, and dripping with authenticity. She was ahead of her time, decades before science aligned with the F-word. She knew that something exalting occurred as soon as those words accented our pages. Our insides -- for better or worse -- were vindicated. Cursing didn’t just free us to write honestly; it put honesty smack dab in the center -- no bleeps, no five-second delay. It was like giving our feelings a green card. Our emotions were allowed entry and, like it or not, they were there to be acknowledged.
Liberated by my foul mouth and long since recovered from my daughter’s F-bomb, I was watching Maya Angelou on a rerun of Oprah's “Super Soul Sunday.” If I thought my English teacher was a legend, Maya Angelou was a goddess. I settled in for an hour in which her spirit would wash over me. But thirty minutes in, she revealed the one thing she doesn’t allow in her presence: vulgarity — curse words to be exact. Apparently they dishonor her spirit enough that she has asked people to leave her house for using profanity.
“Well fuck,” I thought. (I’d like to think Oprah thought the same.) Maya Angelou hates me. I’m not worthy of her. That’s almost as bad as my mom. Did Maya Angelou have a superior spirit and a superior vocabulary? Was Maya Angelou Superwoman then? Crap...had Mom and Pop been right all along? Shit!
Or is it possible to admire someone -- to even go so far as to respect their beliefs -- without adopting them into your own life in the same way?
I know enough to know that like another English teacher once told me, “You can always find another word for ‘very’.” And sometimes that word is the F-word, frankly. And sometimes it isn’t, depending on the scenario, like when you ask your mom to predict the future or when you have dinner at Maya Angelou’s. My girl will know the difference. She could have said, “It’s very hot.” But was it just very hot? No, it was fucking hot. I could have lost that job after graduation and screamed, “Doggone it!” But was that a doggone it moment? Not even close. I might have sworn up and down that my children would grow up in a house without cursing. I may be horrified that my three-year-old said “fuck.” But the language lover in me is also impressed that when she used it, she used it well. And that above all else, she’s not afraid to be herself.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think of my foul mouth, and leave a comment below if you're feeling frisky. You can also follow this link to the "Subscribe Here" button at the top of the page to receive my blog in your inbox every week. You can also follow me on Instagram for sarcasm and inspiration or inspirational sarcasm (Is that a thing?) or on Facebook for updates, and also on Twitter where the app and I are basically like a stereotypical new couple (Twitter, I feel like we're moving too fast. I don't even know that much about you. I need more time before I can open up.) Cheers!