Riding along, Kody said, “Mom, did you SEE how FAT that lady was? How did she fit behind the steering wheel?”
Firmly "helping” my son understand the impoliteness of his “weighty” comments, I urged: “Sweetie, I didn’t see her, but ‘fat’ is a word we shouldn’t use.”
Oh, boy. What now?
“I said the ‘F’ word, Mom.”
Stunned silence on my part. What to say? Should I let him think that “fat” is the “F” word?
More silence — then "Tee hee. Mom, I did a play on words.”
“Oh?” I choked on a laugh. I didn’t even know he knew what a pun was, but I’d probably explained it in conversation at some point. We had this crazy habit of talking about anything and everything.
“There’s another ‘F’ word, you know,” he mused.
How had we stepped so far out onto this verbal cliff?
“Is there?” I edged forward, hoping not to create a landslide.
"Yeah. I saw it written on the hamburgers.”
Ah. The giant hamburgers on the playground — good for more than climbing. This is what he’s learning in kindergarten? I waited, desperately digging my heels into safe ground.
With no sense of looming danger, Kody forged onward. “The thing is — I know how to spell it but not how to pronounce it ...”
Yikes! I’d promised myself I’d always answer every question honestly. That vow couldn’t possibly apply to this situation, could it? Technically, what he’d said was a statement, not a question…
My hands were clammy against the steering wheel. I wasn’t about to pronounce that word — not until I knew he knew how to spell it. How did I even know we were even talking about the same word?
“So how’s it spelled?” I ventured.
Look out below! Falling debris!
My 5-year-old spelled all four letters of the BIG ONE. THE ACTUAL “F”
I took a deep breath.
“Yep. That’s the ‘F’ word, all right,” I said, outwardly calm. You want
your kids to ask YOU the tough questions, not some kid at the top of a giant
hamburger, I reminded myself.
Just so you know, Kody, that’s not a word I like to hear ... or say.”
“But how will I know what it sounds like?” He was serious.
Oh, son, I don’t want you to know this word …
"It’s an ugly word. It doesn’t sound nice,” I countered.
The silence was tangibly anticipatory. Kody knew I would answer his question. I’d never let him down. His curiosity would persist. I’d best get it over with.
“OK. I’ll say it, then I’m not going to say it again. I hope you won’t either. It’s pronounced like ...”
I said it. Dropped the “F” bomb. It was done.
Or was it?
I was teetering at the edge of the rock-face. Kody kicked a pebble, and it was straight down from there.
“But what does it mean, Mom?”
Nooooooo! Any question but that! How about if I just say the word for
you a few more times? Use it in a sentence? Fear echoed through the canyons of my mind: Don’t go there….
...go there! the echo resounded.
I was careening down a slippery slope into uncharted territory.
My son was precocious enough to know what a pun was. He certainly knew
that “bad words” weren’t just “bad” words. They meant something. The only thing to do was hang on for the ride. Pray for a safe landing.
Strangely, the words came.
“Well, Buddy, you know how Daddy and I have a special relationship? We try to be loving, feel romantic toward each other? We hug and kiss and sleep together at night? We do certain things because we’re married?”
“Yeah ...” he was listening intently.
“Well, that word takes what is meant to be special and disrespects it … twisting it so two people don’t really love each other but use each other.”
"Oh. That does sound ugly,” he said. Then he dismissed the thought. Just like that, our adventure was over.
Miraculously, we stood on firm ground.
Once again, I’d found the right words, which led to other words, and more words, over years, all woven together into a safety net: a place of knowing any question is valid, acceptable.
That conversation was years ago. Now, we’ve navigated much terrain, from “How do babies come out?” and “” to “Why does armpit hair grow so fast? How many are there this week?” and beyond. My personal favorite: "Why do junior-high girls ask boys to 'go out' if they’re not planning to actually 'go' anywhere?" (OK, that was my question — but valid!). More recently: "How old do I have to be to date?" (26, of course.)
Traversing the wilderness of the “F” word served its purpose.
Kody learned an early lesson about love and sexuality integrity. He also began to understand how inappropriateness leaves a bitter taste in a person’s mouth, even in the form of ugly words.
I learned some things, too.
First: Our son’s keen sense of the nuances of the English language would forever keep his writer-mama on her metaphorical toes. More importantly was the reconfirmation that honest responses are best. I could trust that with every new question, words would be there, waiting to be spoken.
Truth lies within. We need not be afraid of venturing into new territory, even if it feels a little like jumping off a cliff.
“These commandments … are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk [or
drive?] along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…” Deut. 6: 6-7.
"Kody and the ‘F’ Word” is used by permission. ©2008 by
Donna J. Noble. All rights reserved. This article has been adapted from Conversation on the Heights, a parenting seminar by Donna J. Noble. For information, email Donna.