Nate Tower battles the F-bomb, with hilarious results.
It starts with a long “fffff,” like air released from a deflating helium balloon. Then comes the high-pitched “uck,” uttered with the same joy expressed when we used to feed the duckies at the pond. It’s all accompanied by a big smile. Yeah, I know what I’m doing is wrong, and it feels good.
Our two-year old has hit another milestone. Her first F-bomb.
My daughter has incredible verbal skills, so I’ve been told.
This means a lot to me. Not that I remember, but I didn’t utter a coherent syllable until after age two. To top that off, I had a socially crippling speech impediment that would’ve left me the laughingstock of any pirate gang (ARRRGH!). Unable to pronounce my Rs or Ls until at least age ten, I was often embarrassed to speak in front of people (“Hello, my name is Na-than-yo Tow-a”). When I did, I had to choose my words carefully, not wanting others to learn of my weakness. I did anything I could to hide it, including making fun of others who couldn’t make the same sounds.
Thankfully, Elena can already say Rs and Ls better than I could in my pre-teen days (as evidenced by her perfect pronunciation of one of her favorite My Little Ponies, Toola-Roola).
At our 18-month appointment, when the doctor asked us how many words she could say now, my wife and I both wanted to ask the doc, “Well, how many words can you say?” There was no point in trying to count. It would be like counting the words in the dictionary.
At the two-year appointment, we were again reminded of her verbal prowess. “Can your child say more than three words other than mama or dada?” the questionnaire asked. Now, we’re certain these things are designed so as not to make underdeveloped children’s parents feel worried or inadequate. Or maybe, from a slightly less cynical point of view, this is meant as a reminder, a reassurance, that we as parents did at least something right.
Given that it felt like we did nothing right during the first week after she was born, when she’d only sleep if one of us held her—and scream like a possessed banshee if we didn’t—it’s nice to know we’re not total duds.
So our daughter, the advanced little speaker she is, finally hit us with that big curve ball last week.
We were unpacking groceries. Mommy was upstairs. Elena looked at me, smile emerging on her face. “FFFFFFF-uck!” Like the cry of an animal. It seemed to bring her such joy.
“What was that?” I asked.
“We don’t use that word,” I said.
Like that was going to stop her.
“Tell Mommy fffff-uck?” she said, a hopeful look stretched across those adorably round cheeks. I couldn’t help but smile. Such filth coming from such innocence. Only it didn’t sound dirty at all. It sounded cute.
So we went up to see Mommy and show her the new trick.
“Elena has something to tell you.”
Mommy smiled and asked what she had to say.
“Fuck it!” Elena shouted.
Now this is where things really get confusing. We try pretty hard not to use profanity around her. Yeah, we let it slip, but it’s used sparingly, and neither of us had said it for a while (at least that’s what we both claim). But even if she did hear the F-bomb from us, I can’t ever recall following up with “it.” Where did she pick up such a habit?
That question is moot at this point. The first step is getting her to stop. She says it a dozen or so times. I look on the Internet. A quick Googling of “what to do when toddler says fuck.” Thousands of results. Of course we’re not the first parents to have this problem.
There’s plenty of advice:
- Ignore it. It’ll go away.
- Tell her not to say the word.
- Give her an alternate word. “You mean ‘fire truck'” we can tell her.
- Wash her mouth out with soap.
What? She’s two. I’m not putting soap in her mouth. I recall experiencing this disciplinary tactic a time or two in my youth. I’ll be the first to say it doesn’t work. Hell, it’s not like the soap tastes that bad.
I’ve already told her not to say it, and that one failed. We try an alternate word. “You mean froggy,” we say the next time she says it. I realize immediately this makes no sense. If she goes around using froggy when she means fuck, what will she say when she means froggy?
We ignore it. Or at least try to. She says it again, looking for our approval (or disapproval). It’s so hard not to laugh. We look away. She says it to her crayons. We don’t give any acknowledgement that we care one way or the other about her new word. The crayons don’t respond either.
And it’s a miracle. She doesn’t say it again.
Sometimes as a parent, we have to learn to do nothing.
Nathaniel Tower is a former English teacher who now spends his days at a computer. When not at work, he writes fiction and manages the online literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His first collection of short fiction, “Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands,” was released in 2014 by Martian Lit. Visit him at http://nathanieltower.com