I got sent to the principal's office in Kindergarten for saying, "shit." My mother came, sat down and faced the music, heard the details of my offense and walked me home without saying a word. She had a famously dirty mouth and it was most often on display for me in the backseat of our 1968 VW bug. I was too small to see the traffic, but I knew exactly what was going on based on my mother's play by play of curse words.
There was no punishment that day, she knew all too well where I had heard that "terrible word." She was probably just glad I didn't tell the principal how often she used it in the car.
I got older and learned that most mothers tried not to use these sorts of sailing words in front of their impressionable children. Most mommies still didn't work outside the home then either so maybe that accounted for her sounding like she was on shore leave after a particularly bad tour of the Phillipines.
Nevertheless, these words became a part of my vocabulary. Once in college I expanded my dirty word lexicon to include words even my mother wouldn't have used-just for shock value. I had one friend who delighted in joining me in saying the MOST vulgar things to one another in an effort to horrify our roommate. She has now become a fundamentalist Christian. I have not.
I did mature a bit though and once I had children I worked very very hard not to be potty mouth in front of them. Not because I don't still curse-I do. However, I did not want to have the edifying moment of humiliation in the Kindergarten classroom when Nicholas' precious little mouth invoked the word, "asshole," at a particularly offensive classmate.
Recently however we have hit our stride in the cesspool of middle school and Nicholas appears to be hellbent on diving into the deep end. He has been a passionate reader for many years, an ardent eavesdropper since toddlerhood, and has a vocabulary well beyond his years. This combination is a blessing as well as a curse for me as a parent. I don't get the occasional use of a four letter epithet to raise my hackles, I get in depth discussion and dissection of curse words and nasty names so he can feel like he can use the word (later) to it's full potential. So proud.
When he was wee tiny my sister would begin conversations with me in the minivan and I would say, "stop, the kids are listening." Her children, however, were not, they were enjoying the view, making faces at one another, etc. Only my little fennec fox was sitting with a sly look of discovery on his face waiting to hear the juicy details.
So of course, he is the one who picks up on every nuanced conversation, nasty word, or naughty phrase. True to our relationship he never fears asking for definitions. True to his personality he typically does this at the least opportune moment.
7 a.m. Friday, time for breakfast, clothes, off to school..."Mom, what's a camel toe?"
(Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee...)
"Really Nick? This is how we are starting the day?"
"Let's just deal with it and get on with the day, shall we?"
So we discussed camel toes...very briefly and without detail. he knew immediately what I meant. Some friends have asked, "What do you tell him when he asks these things?"
So here it is: I tell him and his brother the TRUTH.
I do not elaborate, give substitution words or suggestions, I always stress the inappropriateness of the word, stress time and place, and if it is a word or phrase that has any kind of uniquely pejorative meaning (racist, homophobic,etc) I sternly admonish them to remember that we (our family) do not use those types of words and that words can wound just as deeply as a sword or light saber.
This is the same approach I have taken with sexuality. All honest all the time and for heavensake please do not bring this up in front of your poor grandmother. Time and again I have reinforced that I want them to ask and so they do and for that I am grateful. I want them to get the straight dirt-from ME. I want them to know the truth about STD's, condoms, sexting, petting, dating, love, marriage and everything in between. I want them to see the correlation between sex and being impaired by alcohol. I want them to know that they can come to me FOREVER when they are scared, confused, worried and I will listen and acknowledge, and tell them the truth, no matter how ugly it is or how hard it is for me to do it without turning beet red.
When they are older I will tell them more about why I think it's better to wait and have an emotional connection with a partner before you have a sexual connection with them. When they are grown and married themselves I will reinforce how hard it is after a woman gives birth to feel like being Tarzan and Jane in the bedroom again. Again, no gory details, just the reality of life.
Sexuality is part of the package of life, and it can be a lovely Tiffany blue box or a ticking time bomb if children and parents don't have truthful heartfelt conversations throughout their lives. Cursing doesn't have to be part of the package-but being honest about it continues to pays off for our family-even if it only means that Nick can add to his vocabulary.