THE F WORD
When I was in the second or third grade, I discovered that some words were naughtier than others. I was standing in line with the other students, a skill that was not at all transferable into my adult life (so don’t invest too much time figuring it out, kids), when one of them, with great enthusiasm, noticed that someone had written a word on the wall. And not just any word, but The F Word. The line chirruped with excitement. Some of us knew what the F word was but didn’t dare speak it aloud. Others, like me, had never even heard of such a thing. I took it to another level by decrying that this “F word” the other kids were speaking of didn’t really exist.
“Nuh uh! There’s no such thing!” Ironclad defense among the lower elementary cohort.
Our teacher tried to make the graffiti a non-issue by telling us, calmly, not to look at it as we filed into the classroom. This, of course, meant that every child turned to glance at it as they walked by.
What a ridiculous sounding word. I had no idea what it even meant, and none of my other classmates seemed to know, either. So, how did we know it was a bad thing to say? It was, like so many other things in our little lives. It just was. That was enough to satisfy my curiosity for the time being, and I became excited to share my new-found knowledge with those who may never have heard of the F word.
“Guess what I learned in school today?” I said to my father, who was watching television with my younger sister on the couch. His hands were folded over his stomach like a Buddha, only this particular Buddha was wearing nothing but underpants and watching The Simpsons.
My father was never very interested in what we did in school, so I’m certain he feigned as much enthusiasm as he could muster when he said, deadpan, “What?”
“The F word!”
“Do you want me to tell you what it is?”
I was a little disappointed, but not completely discouraged. “I’ll go tell mom!” I declared, as I ran into the bathroom, where my mom was having a shower. Dad didn’t try and stop me. He was probably relieved he didn’t have to have that kind of talk with me in the middle of an episode.
I imagine that most parents cherish their time in the bathroom, as it is only therein that they can reasonably expect to be left alone. Ergo, it is a very important twenty minute span of time. It’s absolutely not the time you’d expect your grade school child to burst through the door, barely able to contain her excitement:
“I learned the F word in school today!!”
What happened next was, in short, one of two heart-to-heart conversations I remember ever having with my mother. “Come into the shower, darling,” she said. So I hopped in, and, over a bonding shampoo, my mother gently let me know that some words were just not appropriate to say. She can’t shield me from all the awful things the world has to offer, but she can advise not to repeat everything I hear in school, or, in this case, see scribbled in pencil outside my school building. There were ways to express how I felt without having to resort to potty language.
Of course, to my mother, “darn it” and “hell” are also considered swear words, and she could swear like a sailor all she wanted, but let me not consume myself with the details!