Crap I know where this is going.
“What do you mean?” I ask him.
“You know,” he says, “the people who make up bad words. They keep coming up with new ones I’ve never heard of before.”
“So you heard a new one today at school?” He nods and says yes. Two kids were calling each other a name during recess and laughing about it. I know he doesn’t like saying bad words out loud, so I ask him to spell it out for me. He misspells it.
“That’s the name of a country in Africa,” I tell him. “But I know the word you’re talking about. It’s an old word that we shouldn’t be using anymore. It was used long ago to make people feel inferior and it was really bad.” I told him a little about the book on slavery I’d finished reading the week before.
“So it didn’t exist when you were young?” he asks me.
I told him it did. It’s the kind of discussion that catches me off-guard as a parent but I know I have to face these kinds of conversations whether I want to or not. As much as I want to protect my children from a world around them that is insulting, uncaring, rude, arrogant, stupid, shameful, discriminatory, racist, and sexist, there will be more and more times when I’m not around to shield them from any of it. My mother’s approach was one of avoidance: we never talked about kids swearing, doing drugs, drinking or having sex. None of that existed once I entered my home. She didn’t want to talk about it and neither did I. So when I have my son come up to me and tell me a swear word that’s new to him, I can’t fall back on my own experience to guide me on a proper response.
But despite this I’m glad he’s comfortable enough to talk to me about it, and however uncomfortable it is for me to answer him, I have to respond. As my children mature and learn more about the world around them, I realize they’re exposed to a lot more crap than I want them to be, but at the same time I need to realize that they are capable of making decisions about what to say or not say, how to be kind and respectful rather than mean-spirited, and how to speak up for what’s right. And talking to them about the stuff that was taboo when I was a kid is one way I hope will help.
“When the kids during recess were using that word, did you say anything to them?” I ask him.
He tells me no. “Maybe next time you hear that word you can tell them it’s not nice to say it. Like, ever.” He nods. I know he’s a good kid.
I drive down our street and pull into the driveway.
“There was another word I heard today, Daddy.”