There are plenty of chances for the children to bump into the saltier world of cursing. Network television can bleep profanity, but life doesn’t. And my kids, at least the newly minted 6-year-old, are well aware of these words. Case in point: a relative, on our recent trip to California, couldn’t fit something in the trunk. “Shit,” the relative said, upon which Dalia reflected for a moment and asked: “What does ‘shit’ mean?”
Side-note: The great thing about that is that she knows very well what ‘shit’ means. Her question was just a way of gently busting the chops of the adult who had said it, while pretending that she wasn’t busting anybody. At the precocious young age of six, my daughter is mastering passive-aggressive behavior. She’s almost ready to go work in a corporate office where cubicle-dwellers stab each other in the back all day!
I’m obviously not too worried about the language, probably because through dumb luck and nothing else I’ve been given an older child who prefers not to work blue even though she could.
Our daily walk to school through Manhattan—not a long walk, just six blocks or so—is starting to remind me more and more of a stroll through Deadwood, except with puffy jackets and snow instead of trenchcoats and dust. I don’t know if it’s just our little slice of the island, but we have some very foul-mouthed individuals living around here. And they get after it EARLY. I mean, I try to resist that first mutherfucker of the day until at least 10am. The day is long. There’s plenty of time to mutter fuck fuck fuck under your breath around lunch, or type listen, asshole as the header of an afternoon email that you decide wisely against sending.
But we walk to school at 8am and already the Germanic cognates are flying. Often the person is on a cell phone, doing that New Yorker half-shout into it. Not in direct anger—they’re usually talking to a commiserator, as in, “So you know I told him to mind his own fucking business, right?”
Dutiful controlling parent that I am, it’s actually tempting sometimes to say something: “seeing as we are all waiting together for this light to change, could you at least not shout motherfucker?”
Saying something would be a terrible idea, I’m pretty sure, in that it would most likely add ten minutes and three fistfights to our little morning commute.
But still, I wonder, how could these good people of Manhattan, my neighbors—often women, no less—curse like Carlin, with such vigor, right next to my preschoolers? And then often I look at their other hand—the one not attached to the cellphone into which they are currently announcing plans to fucking kill that bitch—and find that they are holding something altogether unexpected: the hand of their own preschooler, young and smooth-cheeked and headed for school.