I’m playing Polly Pockets with my five-year-old, because I’m such an attentive and devoted mother. Just kidding, I’m playing on my phone while occasionally cramming a tiny doll into an even tinier rubber dress, an act which I’m certain is a reenactment of the goings on in the ninth circle of hell.
As Mari plucks off a doll’s head to replace it with a new one (See? Hell. Evil.), she says, “Mommy, why is the F word a bad word?”
***screeching brakes sound***
Me: “Ruh???” (Like Scooby Doo.)
Unfazed, Mari continues: “The F word. Why is it bad? Like why are there bad words, anyway? What makes them bad?”
Quick. Think of something momentous to say. THIS IS IT; YOUR CHANCE TO SHINE AS A MOTHER.
I put down my phone. “Err… can you tell Mommy exactly what word you’re talking about?”
Her eyes bug out. “No. No, Mommy, it’s a very bad word and I don’t want to say it.”
“Huh. Okay, well, to answer your question, bad words can hurt people’s feelings. That’s the main reason we don’t say them.”
“Yes, I know that. And I know the F word is the worst one of them all, just like sticking up your middle finger at someone. That’s also a really mean thing to do, right mommy?” …I nod, but my heart is racing and I’m wracking my brain trying to think if I’ve ever flipped the bird in front of her … I can’t remember ever having done so… “But I still don’t really understand why bad words are bad. Like what makes them bad? What do they mean? What does the F word mean, Mommy?”
Dafuq? “Uh… well, if you say it at someone, mostly it means that you think poorly of that person or that you are intentionally trying to make them angry or sad. It’s like telling them you don’t like them.”
“Okay, mommy.” She callously rips another doll apart. I stare on in horror.
“So… where did you hear this word, anyway?” (Please don’t let her say me. Please don’t let her say me. Please don’t let her say me.)
“From Emma. She says it sometimes, and I tell her it’s not a nice word.”
What the what?? I like Emma. Really? She says the F word??? I cannot believe it. “Mari, can you tell me exactly what word Emma said?”
“No, Mommy. It’s a bad word. A very bad word.” She will not make eye contact with me. Her mouth is set into a tiny line, almost disappearing into the perfect baby skin of her round face.
“Are you afraid you’ll get in trouble if you say it aloud?”
She whispers: “Yes.”
“Then I give you permission to say it just this once. I promise you won’t get in trouble.”
She takes a tremulous breath, still unsure.
“How about if you whisper it? Would that make you feel better?”
I lean towards her, ear first.
She leans in too, pushing her somber eyes as far to the right as her little eye muscles will permit, so that I mostly see whites. She takes another shaky breath and whispers, so softly I can barely hear:
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