F’n Thin Mints by Guest Blogger Kristi Ashcroft

Girl Scout Thin Mints

Girl Scout Thin Mints

F’n Thin Mints.  I posted this on Facebook a few days ago as I tossed the empty box into the blue bin, and right before I began to jot down a few thoughts for this blog.  I don’t swear in front of my kids.  Really, I don’t.  Ever.  And I have to give props to my husband, who also keeps it clean in front of the family.  That said, when the little ones are out of earshot, we have both been known to add a few four-letter flourishes to our sentences.

In part, the double life has arisen because the “do as I say, not as I do” mantra falls on deaf ears in our household.  If we’re serious about keeping our kids’ language clean, then ours will have to be above reproach as well.  And in my mind, swearing is analogous to eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints:  I wish I could say I never do it; there really is no justification for it; I don’t do it in front of the kids; and while I’m realistic about the fact that they will have their own vices at some point, there’s no way I’m going to condone them doing it on my watch.

Peter Scowen , in his Globe & Mail article about potty-mouthed parents, cites a variety of empirical and anecdotal data supporting the notion that swearing in front of the kids (and them swearing in turn) is no big deal.  So why does it bother me?

It comes down to two things.  First, I love words.  My left-brained self has always appreciated that the English language – with over ten times the number of words as, for example, French – allows us to describe a feeling, situation or event with almost laser-like precision.  Using a one-size fits all curse word to reflect anger, shock, pain, surprise, thrill, regret, or to merely fill a pause in the conversation might, to some, seem efficient.  To me, it’s like having tunnel vision. Also, I am generally partial to couth.

Last week, I ended up in the unlikely situation of being at a Drake concert, during which Drake implored his audience to “make some motherf—ing noise”.  I couldn’t help but wonder…how loud is motherf—ing noise?  I don’t know a lot of Drake’s music, but I do know a lot of mothers.  And my sense is that mother f—ing noise is actually, often, very very quiet.  As in, “above all else do NOT wake the kids in the next room” quiet.

OK, so Drake clearly wasn’t intending for his adjective to be taken literally, and perhaps I should consider that swear words are highly effective for emphasis.  But really, if I am LMFAO at something, does that mean the joke is significantly more hilarious than if I’m simply (more kid-friendly) LMAO or (G-rated) ROFL?

And I understand that there’s nothing like blood-boiling rage to get the f-bombs flowing.  However, there is also no easier way to be immediately written off as a raving lunatic.  The person on the receiving end of your expletive-laden wrath will zone out, wait for your tirade to be over, and then ask you to either leave or hang up.  I’m fairly certain Rogers customer service has one of my phone calls recorded for “quality assurance” that would illustrate this point beautifully.

As parents, we all pick our priorities.  One of mine is teaching my kids to be effective communicators.  Keeping the language clean and fostering an environment where we all use respectful, thoughtful, varied and appropriate vocabulary is a key component of this.  Swearing in this context would seem to undermine all of our efforts.

And so, in our house, if my kids use an undesirable word (and they are still young enough that we’re primarily dealing with epithets like “stupid” and “idiot”), I make them stop and articulate at least a few other ways they could express what they are thinking or feeling at that moment.  My grand hope is that they become accustomed to expressing themselves using a rich variety of words.  At a bare minimum, I hope it will be such a pain in the neck for my boys to swear in my presence that they hone their little self-censoring filters – something that will serve them well in life.  Sort of like putting the Thin Mints at the back of the top shelf of the pantry, requiring a step stool and a complete kitchen reorganization to reach them.   F’n Thin Mints.

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Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 3, 5 and 7.

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A Lame Defence of Cursing and Lying

swearingprohibitedcensored“Yes, mommy.  I would like some juice,” my 4 year old responded from behind me where he was securely fastened into his car seat.

I hadn’t asked him if he was thirsty. I had blasted the car that had swerved in front of me, cutting me off, forcing my foot to abruptly hit the break.  The culprit then flashed me a quick wave, more like a dismissal than an apology, all the while chatting on her cell phone that was clutched in her gloved hand.

“What a douche!” I had muttered- apparently not as under my breath as intended.

That was the first time I was called out by my kids on my swearing.

Here’s the thing: I do curse and if I am being honest, I do so more than I would like but I don’t make a habit of doing it in front of my kids.  Mostly I preach to them that swearing (or “adult words”) is a lazy way of expressing your feelings.  And I believe that.

The English language is rich with words that have long been forgotten, fallen out of favour and/or replaced with “knee-jerk” words that rarely do a sufficient job at conveying the intended meaning anyway.

“Search for your words!”  I gently say this while looking into their eyes, wild with frustration, as they struggle to communicate; when they’d rather throw a punch than commence a dialogue.

But I’m a parent and sometimes parents lie.

Like when I say I am not eating chocolate while feverishly searching for mayonnaise at the back of the refrigerator. When I tell them, of course I am going to bed right now but sneak downstairs a few minutes later. My go-to fib is that mommy already ate her broccoli while she was making dinner (meanwhile mommy thinks that broccoli is vile and would rather eat lumpy dirt from the sandbox at the neighbourhood park).

It’s kinda like that.

When I stub my toe I might say “Ouch!  I need to slow down and watch where I am walking.”

What I mean to say is:

“FUCK!  That fuckin’ hurts!”

Because sometimes curse words are the best way to convey emotion.

But that’s being lazy.

Oh, My Giddy Aunt: Creative Cursing

I admire the economy of a quick, loud “Fuck!”, but there is also the languid beauty of a long, drawn-out expletive.  I spent part of my childhood in Yorkshire and in other parts of England, and there resides a rich source of creative curses.  I learned to swear beautifully as a child in England.

Well, it’s beautiful in retrospect and to a word-loving bibliophile such as myself.  I once bought a friend a package of Shakespearean insult gum: each little gumball came wrapped in its own, wee box made to look like a volume of a set of books.  And inside is printed an unlikely insult, like, “Thy breath stinks with eating toasted cheese.”  It may not roll off the tongue, but it sure conjures an image.  In The Tempest, Caliban mutters, “You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse.”  Shakespeare’s full of curses, as well as a good many dirty bits.  I never could quite make out why the Shakespearean “swounds” (a minced oath, short for God’s wounds) was in the least bit offensive, but that’s where swearing comes from, isn’t it?   Taking the Lord’s name, and the names of things associated with him, in vain.  There are all kinds of useful phrases to avoid swearing, a form of blasphemy that I imagine caused more offense in years gone by than today.  The Quebecois have their “Tabarnac,”  and “câlice”, named for the tabernacle and chalice of churches, transformed to “tabarnouche,” and “câline.”  But I marvel at the transformation of “bloody” (referring to the blood of Christ’s wounds) to “blooming.”  “Bloody hell” becomes “Bloomin’ heck” or “Bloomin’ umma.”  (This simply must be uttered with a Yorkshire accent or it just doesn’t work.)

“Flippin’ ‘eck” (a much milder version of “Fucking hell”) was one of my grandmother’s favourites, most often uttered when she was losing at cards, which we played for money.  Blasphemy and gambling.  I was raised well.

 

But I was raised with imaginative language, damn it!  Why call someone the S word (“Stupid,”  according to my youngest), when you can say that he is “As thick as two short planks.”  Or even, “Doolally”?

insult

And if you are angry with someone, why not express your intended revenge with the bloodiest image possible?  My mother used to threaten us with disembowelment, as in, “If you walk on my clean floors with those muddy boots, I’ll have your guts for garters!”

Even for mild exclamations, there are such wonderful phrases.  To express surprise, one would say, “Oh, my giddy aunt.”  It’s a thing of beauty, that phrase.  As is, “Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!”  Both are much more interesting than a mere, “Wow!”, my bloodless default expression with my kids.  Yawn.

I speak with a North American accent now, so I can’t pull it off anymore, but these words rattle around in my head like ghosts from the past.  My kids won’t have this richness available to them when they reach for an insult, and are, I’m afraid, poorer for it.