So I’ve developed a bit of a swearing problem, not unlike the one I had when I was a teenager. I’ve always been a fan of a well-placed expletive, and I reject the idea that people who swear have limited vocabularies. Case in point: an old co-worker of mine who was like, genius-level smart with an impressive vocabulary, knew just how to place a “fuck” into a conversation for maximum comedic effect.
I don’t have that talent. My mouth is the bastard child of a truck driver and a sailor, known to carelessly toss around a “damn it” or a “shit.” It’s like breathing, honestly. I was able to curb my language for many years while I was immersed in my corporate job, but now that I’m working from home and it’s just me and the cat all day -- well, let’s just say I’ve done a bit of backsliding lately.
In fact, it was during our recent trip to Iowa when I realized how bad my potty mouth had become. I said something -- probably a “shit” muttered under my breath after I dropped the first of many objects (why do I always drop stuff?) -- right in front of my kid and my mom.
Oliver has heard just about every four-letter word, in every combination, from my mouth. And he dropped his own S-bomb once and immediately apologized for it. I think he was surprised when my response was something like, “That word doesn’t bother me, but it bothers other people so don’t say it at school or in front of your grandmother." (Even though his grandmother is kind of the Mayor of Sweartown and taught me everything I know about it).
I remember reading this interview with George Carlin years ago where he talks about how he taught his daughter that there is nothing wrong with “dirty” words themselves, but that there are times and places where you shouldn’t use them. It’s about respecting other people’s boundaries.
And I try to respect boundaries -- I am, after all, a chronic apologizer and never want to offend anyone. For example, one of the partners at my last job was very old school, and even a “shoot” or a “darn” would cause her to purse her lips. That was her level of comfort with swearing, and I respected that.
So how do you stop the sh!t train from leaving f@$k station, when you are born with a potty mouth like mine? What always helped me was to imagine I was having a conversation with my grandmother, who I would be really mortified to swear in front of because it just seems wrong. And that worked for many years.
Except I’ve been out of control lately, you guys. And when I muttered “shit” under my breath in Iowa, Oliver shook his head and said, “Oh Mommy, you said a bad word.” My mom mentioned that my stepbrother and sister-in-law have a swear jar at home so that they'll stop using inappropriate language around their kids. I’ve heard of this concept before -- where every time someone swears they have to put money in a jar, and then the kids get that money -- but I never thought of implementing such a system.
And I really wish my mother had thought of doing something like a swear jar when I was a kid, because I've done some calculations, and based on how much my mom swears, I definitely would have been able to buy that Barbie Dreamhouse after like a month. MOM.
So I promised Oliver that I will give him a marble every time I say a bad word in front of him. Replacement words like "shoot" and "frack" don't count. (To recap the marble system, he earns marbles for doing chores and exhibiting good behavior, and when he reaches 100 marbles he gets $20 of spending money -- though he recently requested that we make it $5 for every 25 marbles.) I lost track of how many marbles I owe him so far, but it’s definitely more than five and probably less than 20.
Do you swear in front of your kids? Was your mom a champion swearer like mine was (and still is)? Do you have a swear jar, and is it making your kids rich?
Somer is probably dropping an f-bomb on Twitter right now: @somersherwood.