You f***ing c***. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Now you listen to me, you do as I f***in tell you or there’ll be hell to pay!” I heard her before I saw her, her screeching voice carried across the still, cold winter afternoon. I had just moved to London a few months before and was on my way home from Tesco. It was a young mother yelling at her toddler daughter who had sat down on the curb, pacifier in mouth, mulishly refusing to budge.
I was 24 and didn’t have children at the time. So of course, this tableaux took a hockey stick and bashed any rosy-cheeked smiley notions of motherhood that I may have had. Of course I judged her severely in my head before walking on as fast as my shopping bags would let me, lest she direct her invective my way.
I first heard the F-word in Class 4, courtesy a classmate who was re-enacting a scene from a movie she’d watched the previous evening .
“And then he said ‘Shut the f*** up’”
I knew better then to ask what the word meant — to her or to my mother later that day.
Of course, with every generation the age at which children hear swear words, find out what they mean and then start using them, gets younger and younger. A year ago, the ‘S word’ meant ‘stupid’ in my house and was the height of bad language. A lot can happen in 12 months, as I found out recently when I picked my kids up from the bus stop.
“S said the F-word Aunty!” the boys crowed as they got off the bus.
“Oh really?” I responded nonchalantly. “Hmmm.”
“Yes! The whole thing. Not just F but ALL of it.”
“Well, isn’t that something?”
As we walked home, I asked S if he knew what it meant.
“Where did you hear it?”
“On the bus. One of the seniors said it.”
Phew. It wasn’t from me then when my caffeine levels are low and I realise there’s no milk in the fridge. We had a chat about how some words aren’t really for kids to use. I may have also said something about washing his mouth with soap if he said it again. The 4-year- old of course was dying of curiosity.
“What’s the F word?” “What’s the F word?” “What’s the F word?” “What’s the F word?”
Now even though I’m of the belief that the F-word is about as bad a bad word as hell or damn, there’s still something about bad language and small children that makes me inhale sharply and look around furtively to see if anyone overheard. We don’t want anyone thinking we’re bad parents or that our kids are bad kids. A few days later, a fight erupted between the boys.
“He said a bad word. He said the S word. He said STUPID.”
Ah. All’s well in the world again. The younger one as always had to have the last word.
“You’re the worst F-word in the world.” Yeah, that’s not going to go down well at the kindergarten sand pit. Cinthol or Dove?
(The writer is a former copywriter whose parenting philosophy is: if there’s no
blood, don’t call me)