My almost-15 year old, flipping me double birds, on a night walk during the start of Week 2 of quarantine.
That day, my husband got upset with this kid because he kept on asking (and asking and asking) about online learning and what was going to happen with school and my husband started his answer with “Hey, Asshole…”
My husband and I both use “swear words” a lot in our every day language and it’s been a tricky thing navigating with kids because we don’t have a moral issue with the words themselves. I find it a hypocritical stance that adults can use words that kids can’t, especially given the reality that many of us adults who use swear words started using them when we were in elementary school. Any word can become vulgar, can be used in hurtful ways, and the evolving nature of language is a testament to what words used to be acceptable that no longer are and words that used to be unacceptable that now are in certain contexts. The sanitized versions don’t make sense to me either. Why is “Cheese and Rice” better than “Jesus Christ”? Or “Go to H-E double hockey sticks”? While cute, these illustrate my point that any word can be used in a hateful, derogatory, exclamatory way. And we need a way to blow off that steam. When you hurt yourself physically, what if you weren’t allowed to say “Ouch!”
I’m not saying everyone should talk the way that I talk and I can understand how surprising the language can be for people who don’t use it in “polite society.” At times I myself meet that threshold when I talk to people who overuse it the same way I overuse “like.” But that’s linguistics and culture and region and personality.
But with kids, that kind of language can still carry heat that can be damaging, and so I find it amusing that somehow in my family we’ve turned it into a strange form of endearment. I broke my middle finger a couple of years ago and had a wrapped splint that kept it straight. I tend to give the thumbs up sign a lot and every time I did, I’d inadvertently flip my kids off. They all found it hilarious. As they’ve become teenagers and gamers and swearing amongst their friends, and not having any limitations or judgments on their language other than they shouldn’t be using it toward their siblings, it can sometimes be hard to remember that they are still kids, that they’re MY kids, and that my words have more weight than others.
So I always check in.
For me, that’s what communication is all about. Make a joke out of something to lighten the mood. I reminded my husband that his parents probably never called him an “asshole” ever, so why was he modeling this? And then his son quipped “Maybe Dad needed to be called an asshole by his parents.” And when I asked my son if he was hurt by it, he said no in a way that I believed. When my son flipped the bird during this picture, it wasn’t out of anger or rudeness. He was striking a pose. And I love the picture for the color and the lighting and my son at the center of it.