It seems I am a potty mouth. It only took the princess of potty talk to tell me so. Lucille thinks everything fart, butt and crack are hilarious. She can go from diary to diarrhea in a gleeful matter of seconds. So when she told me that I said “a lot of bad words,” I listened. Sort of. “Do I really say bad words a lot?” I asked knowing I can curse like a sailor but having thought that I kept it between the lines for the sake of my children.
“A lot,” she said.
“Well maybe I’ll try to work on that,” I said. “Maybe I need a potty talk jar that I pay every time I say a bad word.”
“Mama,” she said looking straight at me with her big blue eyes. “I think you’ll need a bucket.”
And with that I have tried to curb my language. Tried is the key word here.
It seems that now, after a few months, I truly do need a bucket. I have amassed a bill so high in 25 and 50-cent violations (25 cents for minor infractions, 50 cents for the big ones) that I owe my daughters the a small villa in the south of France.
For so long my cursing didn’t matter. They didn’t know the difference between “what the heck” and whatever else might have come out of my mouth. Now, it seems, they do and it is with a deep sigh in my heart that I have to reign it in.
The problem is this: I love the way it feels to say what I really want to say, to have just the right words fall off my lips and land right on point. I wish I could say that I am a better mother in the sense that I know my daughters are listening and I should just watch what I say but, to be honest, it’s not how I feel. I don’t want them to say the words I say, it’s just that I want to say them. I feel a bit like a defiant teenager with my heels silently dug in, saying what I want to when they are out of earshot. But they have elephant ears of late and they catch me in the act more than I’d like to admit.
This whole scenario reminds me of me trying to get my mother to quit smoking when I was a kid. It was the 80s, everyone smoked. But I hated it. Hated it. I still do. I would bring her brochures with ghastly pictures of smoker’s lungs, I would threaten to pour her cigarettes down the toilet. I reminded her every time I could that she was going to get cancer and how awful that was going to be. It never did any good. She continued to smoke. Then she didn’t. Then she did again. I don't think she is a smoker today but I don’t think my nagging had anything to do with her quitting. Not even seeing my grandmother cracked wide and put back together with her chest wired shut after a valve replacement did my mother quit smoking. I think she just got tired of it one day and quit when she was ready.
My grandmother once told me after my harassing her about her own smoking, “It’s the one bad thing I do, Jennifer. I don’t drink. I don’t eat too much. I’m kind. I go to church. So… leave me alone!” Her tone was light but I got the point. She eventually quit but not until she had open heart surgery, twice. I’m sure my constant nagging had nothing to do with her decision to quit either.
For so long I didn’t understand why my mother or her mother continued to smoke but now, in light of my own inability to completely give in to the nagging of my daughters, I think back on my grandmother’s words. It’s the only bad thing I do. I think about how as mothers we give everything over the existence of our children and how it is hard to let the one bad thing we do go. It’s hard to hand over that last piece of ourselves even if we know we should, even if we know there is other ground we should trade it for.
So I’m trying to do both of those things: take back space that is just mine and trade it for cursing, at least around my children.
“Mom! Did you say the sh word?” Lucille yelled from the bathroom the other day.
“I did! I said shoot!” I said.
“That’s twenty-five cents!” she said.
“Nope,” I said “shoot isn’t a bad word. It’s legal!”
“Are you sure?” she said.
“Oh, I’m sure,” I said holding on to at least the shell of my cursing former existence.
Then I walked over to see the picture she was drawing. It was a stick figure with a bubble butt and the word “toot” coming out of the crack. She threw her head back in delight and cackled. I sternly told her it was inappropriate but my consternation was thinly veiled behind my own amusement because I know what feels like to have just the right word and, as far as I could tell from the glimmer in her eye, I’m pretty sure she does too.