“Flower.” That’s what my brother’s baby book said was his first word. Even when I was six years old, I thought that was strange. Most kids say mama or dada or doggie; no kid ever says flower. I knew it was a lie, but at six, I didn’t understand the reason for the lie.
My mother was methodical about filling in my brother’s baby book. On the page of “firsts” – first smile, first tooth, first steps – was that strange first word “flower”. She explained at length that it was from the movie Bambi which they were watching at the time. I didn’t buy it.
Finally 30 years later, after a few glasses of wine, my mother came clean. Like many first-time moms, she was young and easily frustrated, and when frustrated, her favorite word was “shit”. So it wasn’t surprising when her baby’s first word was “shit”, not a good “first” for the baby book.
“Shit!” When that word came out of my sweet two-year-old son’s mouth, I laughed. It sounded so cute, and he used it just like I use it, when frustrated or when he drops something, so it was like holding up a little mirror. Thinking it over later, I realized that it wouldn’t sound so cute when he does it in public. We didn’t have long to find out.
Dropping off Ethan Monday morning at his day-care center run by the local Lutheran church, my husband was turning off the highway when suddenly, a large speeding truck cut us off and forced our Acura onto the gravel shoulder.
“Jesus F***ing Christ!” my husband yelled as we bounced over the gravel and he fought to keep the car out of the drainage ditch. After a few harrowing seconds and a few deep breaths to calm ourselves, we turned to find Ethan unhurt in the back seat, quiet with eyes as big as dinner plates. Minutes later, we walked into the day-care center and were greeted by the two older ladies that run the place. Ethan hadn’t said a word since the near-accident and ran to the ladies, proudly exclaimed, “Jesus F***ing Christ!”
I wanted to crawl in a hole. There must be a special place in hell for parents that allow their two-year old to say that in a church.
The church wasn’t the worst, which came two years later. My niece was graduating from Harvard, and our entire family came out to Boston. We rented a van to shuttle us around the city. Packed into the van late one evening, Ethan enjoyed being the center of attention as the only small child in a group of adults. In the front seat were my brother and Father Leo, a Catholic priest and my sister-in-law’s brother. Suddenly, Ethan pointed his finger at the van’s driver, Father Leo. “Hey…,” he shouted. “Hey you… Hey asshole.” My heart stopped and the van went dead silent. Father Leo turned around in the driver’s seat, “Is he talking to me?” I was speechless.
Luckily, everyone burst out laughing. Even Leo laughed. Ethan laughed but didn’t really understand why. Thinking about it the next day, I realized that he was mimicking me and the way I talk back to drivers on the road. How mortifying to hear your exact words and cadence repeated back, and to a priest no less. My little mirror didn’t look so great at that moment.
Sitting in that van, I thought my dead mother must be rolling over in her grave at the idea that her only grandson curses like a sailor but then I smiled to myself and thought about my oldest brother’s baby book.
Today, my husband and I try to watch our language more but let’s face reality - sometimes the words shit or asshole just pop out. Driving to Costco recently, my husband let loose with asshole on the highway.
“Daddy, you can’t say that!” my son giggled at him. “You can’t say (dramatic pause and in a quiet voice) asshole.”
“Well, what can I say?” said my husband. Half-listening, I chimed in with the first thing to cross my mind. “How about apple?”
My husband tried it out as we pulled in the parking lot. “Hey you, apple hole! Why don’t you move your fat apple?” Ethan broke into belly laughs in the back seat.
Twenty minutes later as we walked through the store aisles, my son still giggled. “Apple hole… That… was… awesome!” My husband and I smiled at each other. We won’t go to hell for that one, right?