There's a huge uproar about an ABC television program. Again. No, it's not Dennis Franz's bare butt on NYPD Blue. This time, it's the F-word. Spoken by a toddler-ish girl. Bleeped out. The little actress didn't even actually say the word. The director had her say "fudge." But everyone's in a snit. Click here to read an article about the controversy.
The show, Modern Family, was addressing the very real dilemma parents face when their children learn naughty words and say them out loud, often during the most awkward, uncomfortable public moments. I don't even watch this show. But I say, good for them, for putting a very real situation in a situation-comedy.
Newsflash to the world: kids will say naughty words. Mostly, it's because they don't realize the wrong-ness of the situation. Or maybe they do know the words are taboo, and they say them for shock value.
Henry and I were driving in downtown Iowa City on a gameday Saturday a couple years ago, and we passed a man standing on a street corner, hawking T-shirts that had foul language on them. The man was yelling the word at the top of his lungs. From the back seat, Henry quietly observes, "That man is yelling the F-word. That's not nice." He was in KINDERGARTEN. I said, "Where did you hear about the F-word?" He says, "At school. Kids say it on the playground."
"But I don't say it."
I looked back at him for a second. He grinned. We moved on.
A week or so ago, we had another, more upsetting situation. I had just gotten off the phone with someone and was very angry about something that I won't get into here. Needless to say, I was ranting in the living room to Tim while Henry was reading in his bedroom. Then I muttered that Henry needed to get to bed, so I went to tuck him in.
He looked at me with a bit of shock and plainly said, "I am NOT a shit."
He had heard me exclaim, in my anger and frustration, that someone was being a sanctimonious, manipulative shit. And then assumed, when I added that Henry needed to get to sleep, that I was talking about him.
My first reaction was to yell at him and tell him never to say that. I added that I wasn't talking about him, I was talking about someone else.
Then he burst into tears. And I felt horrible, for making my boy think for even a second that I had been talking about him.
And guess what. I was proud of him for calling me out. For confronting me, right then and there, with the word I so inappropriately shouted in my rage. I'm glad he felt comfortable enough to say it in defense of himself. He'd done absolutely nothing wrong, and then I yelled at him for saying it.
I apologized. I gave lots of hugs and kisses. He forgave me. We moved on.
Kids will cuss. It happens.
Grownups cuss. Perhaps we shouldn't.
Good for ABC for addressing the issue. Maybe we should all take a moment to reflect on the power we give these words. They're just letters, strung together in a certain order, plopped into snippets of conversation for exclamation or emphasis or effect. Maybe sheer laziness.
Next time I'll try to be more creative.