“Fucking Cat”! — that is what my two-year old daughter said. There is no doubt in my mind where she learned that word. I have a bad habit of swearing in moments of frustration, and I said the exact same words in front of her just days before. She said the “F bomb” in a rather casual way, but then looked at me and gave her mischievous smile so that I knew she was aware that it was not a word that should be uttered. Now I know that two-year olds imitate, and that I should be more careful with what I say in front of her, but even still I couldn’t help but be startled by her confidence in saying that word. Although an unwelcome fixture in my vocabulary now, I never said that word when I was young, certainly not at two or even at twelve. I was an adult, working in a factory, when I started swearing. In this setting, profanity lost its power due to sheer repetition. As with watching too much violence on television, one can simply become immune. The “F” word became like any other word, although more varied in its application. Some people used it as an adjective for a noun, any noun, no matter the context, tone or intended response. “Fucking foreman” was meant to be hostile, whereas “she is a fucking hottie” was complimentary and intended to promote reciprocal jargon. It could be used as a noun, as in “what a fuckhead.” And the phrase “fuck that fucking fucker” was the most versatile use of a word I think I have ever heard.
But now I was hearing the word come out of my sweet little girl’s mouth, and my original shock at its visceral force came storming back. As affronted as I was, I could not help being proud, just a little bit, of the way she by-passed the more trivial swearwords like “shit” and “damn” and went straight for the “f” bomb. And it was a bomb!
The problem was this. How could I appear creditable when telling her not to swear when she already knew that I did? I need my own mouth washed out with soap. So I decided to go on a swearing detox. No cursing. Cold turkey. I told her that swearing is impolite and unnecessary to get one’s point across. I told her that although she heard mommy say it, she shouldn’t be swearing either. And so a toddler and her grown mother made a deal that they would each not swear and if they heard the other swearing, then they would point it out and respectfully ask the person to not use that sort of language. She hasn’t said the word since, although I was caught once a few months later. I didn’t think it would be so fucking hard to stop swearing, but bad habits usually take awhile to break. Now that I am culpable to my two-year old, I’ll have to try harder. I wish they made a patch for it, the way they do for cigarette smokers — maybe I can get an extra-large one and just stick it over my mouth.