I woke up this morning and sat in bed for a few minutes thinking about the dream I had last night.
In my dream, it was 2 a.m. and I heard knocking on the back door. I dreamt that I walked into the kitchen after hearing the faint taps and scratches and looked outside the darkened window. A tiny face in the doorway struggled to look in. It was Nate, the 5-year-old who lives next door, who comes over to play with my son, William. I continued to dream that my kids were standing behind me. We all stood and stared at Nate.
"He comes over all the time," exclaimed Seb.
"Maybe he'll go home," said Chris.
"Fuck," said William.
"You shouldn't say that," Chris said to his 5-year old brother, and we all turned around and walked back toward our beds.
Although my dream was in part about my annoyance over Nate's constant and sudden visits, I sat and pondered the newest dilemma in child-rearing that was the real cause of my anxiety: bad words.
Because William has two older brothers, this childhood stage is not new to me and I'm completely aware of what I'm in for.
When Chris was a little younger than William, his favorite bad word to say was "butthead." Although one might argue it's more acceptable than "fuck," it's still a rather displeasing word to be heard out loud.
Unlike his younger, more discriminating brother, I remember that Chris was much more liberal in his usage. He called his aunts and uncles "butthead," his grandparents and cousins were known as "butthead," and many confused strangers were also assaulted with the word.
One of the more memorable moments occurred when we were leaving church services one Sunday morning.
When the pastor asked Chris how he was that day, Chris replied, "Great, Butthead! How are you?" I apologized and we quickly left.
I don't know why kids pick up bad words so astutely, but it's as though, when they hear a particular inflection, it must ring in their ears as candy tastes to their tongues. They simply have to try it out.
Chris would sit in his bed when he was about 4 years old and practice combinations of words. One afternoon, I stood around the corner of his bedroom and listened to this discourse, "butt ... nose," "butt ... angel," "angel ... drip," "angel ... noodle." He paused and then uttered, "butt ... noodle." I remember more silence. "Butt noodle," he repeated, and he began to laugh hysterically.
"Chris," I said as I appeared in his room, "please don't say bad words." "Okay," he agreed.
Surely, there must be some Symantec phenomena that describe children and bad word usage. Surely, by studying this phase of child development, a more effective course of action might be revealed, other than simply waiting it out and patiently trying to redirect their creativity. With Chris, I took the route of patiently waiting it out.
Unfortunately, it can become more than an embarrassing Sunday morning and harm does arise when other people are insulted.
When my brother lived in Washington, D.C., for instance, I took the boys to visit him. Mike lived far enough away to usually enjoy the time he had with his nephews. Chris liked to call Mike, "Uncle Butthead."
On one particular visit, we decided to spend a day walking around to see the monuments. As we strolled up toward the Washington Monument, my children and my brother raced ahead of me. I took my time and enjoyed a quiet moment as I passed a male couple holding hands and looking crossly back at my brother.
As I got closer, I noticed that Mike stood red-faced waiting for me to catch up. I picked up my pace.
"What's wrong?" I asked. My son Chris was biting his lip.
"You've got to do something about this," Mike insisted. "Chris just called me a 'butt noodle,' and that couple you passed thought he said it to them. They were really pissed off."
My brother never liked being called Uncle Butthead and now had just been publicly embarrassed. He was mad. He began to insist that I spank Chris or wash his mouth out with soap.
But swift force just doesn't work. Chris eventually grew out of his phase. He began to apologize on his own and not when directed, and at 9 years old, he's one of the most sensitive and caring little boys I know.
As for my brother Mike, he survived also, but unlike Chris, has not phased out some of his own bad habits.
This evening, William brushed his teeth and I gave him his bath. Taking a towel from the closet, I wrapped him up snuggly and carried him to his room. We picked out his favorite pajamas -- a Buzz Lightyear set that glows in the dark.
After he was dressed, I brushed his hair and looked at his bright, clean, shining face.
"I love you, Mom," he said.
"I love you, too," I replied, and gave him another hug.
"Mom," said William.
"What?" I asked.
"Fuck," he said and smiled.
I cringed, realizing he was not done with his new word.
"William, where did you hear that word?" I finally asked.
"Uncle Mike," he replied.