When I got pregnant with our firstborn, I knew it was time to make some big changes. Namely, my husband and I were going to be better at keeping our house clean and we were going to stop swearing.
“There are all kinds of different expressions we can use,” I told him. “We don’t have to resort to profanity.”
Many, many different expressions — from golly to land’s sakes to holy cow. Looking at the gorgeous, pristine faces of first one baby, then another, how could we even think about using swear words around them?
Well, you know how it goes. The gorgeous, little pristine faces turned into howling furies now and then. They screamed, they vomited, they smeared food in their hair. Still, we were pretty good at not swearing. After all, we were role models.
More time passed. Years, decades. Send two kids out into the world (i.e., the public-school system) and they come back sounding like they’d joined the navy. Massive, familywide breakdown into four-letter expletives after token resistance from my husband and me. Fuck, yeah! However, we do try to teach them appropriate times and places to use their newfound vocabularies.
The kids grow up and leave home, still swearing. It’s the two of us again, still swearing.
The trouble is, you forget about exemplary behavior around small kids when you don’t have them. This would explain my husband’s lapses Saturday night when we were around our friends Marc and Marina and their two young sons. We met them in Chinatown in the early evening — which quickly led me to realize this was family hour across the city. There were kids everywhere in the restaurant, with fresh supplies of strollers stored nearby. The atmosphere was, let us say, animated.
Dumplings appeared. We even got chopsticks this time. Chicken with fried garlic. Beef with ginger. Turnip cakes.
“Fuck, this is good!” my husband said with great enthusiasm.
I would say there was silence after that, that you could have heard a pin drop, but the restaurant wasn’t that kind of place. Still, his pronouncement seemed to have gotten the undivided attention of the two kids sitting with us. I kicked my husband under the table and raised my eyebrows.
“Oops,” he said.
More food, more conviviality, chopsticks flying.
“Goddamn! This is some of the best food I’ve ever eaten,” my husband announced loudly.
Half an hour later, lurching into the crowds as it rained and we searched for the subway entrance, we descended underground to look for our train. Here, you could say anything and nobody would notice or kick you in the shin or raise an eyebrow or stab you with a chopstick, if necessary.
“Damn!” my husband said. “You know, I just forget about not swearing around kids. It’s been so long.”
It’s been so long and we’re out of practice. Our house isn’t kid-proofed and neither is our vocabulary. The only thing that will save reprobates like us, I fear, is another chance at redemption. At our age, they’re called grandkids.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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