Tahoe Dad: You’re not allowed to say that
You’re not allowed to say that.
“Why not, Dad?”
“It’s a mean thing to say and we don’t allow it in our house. OK, Michael?”
What to allow children to say and where to draw the line seems like a perpetual dance with Michael and Jane.
“Where did he learn that one?” Wifey asks.
“Probably, while we were sitting in Bay Area traffic last weekend,” I respond.
“Oh yeah. It felt like an hour just to get out of Santa Cruz.”
Wifey and I try to watch what we say of course, but inevitably the occasional curse slips out. Rather than blurting the first thought in our heads, we do a great deal of spelling-out alphabet-code-speak. This shows up as rapid-fire letter sequences, such as “Oh D-A-M, I wish people would just merge.”
An unexpected downside to Michael’s new reading and phonics skills is his ability to sound-out profanity.
“What is sh-i—”
“Whoa there, Buddy. Where did that come from?”
“While you and Mommy were driving.”
Then, there is also the whole “potty-talking” proximity debate, i.e. exactly when, as in how soon until the actual act; and exactly where, as in how close to the actual toilet, do we allow the use of such words, as “poop,” “do-do,” “popó,” or any other derivation of excrement. It often feels like those lines are under constant negotiation.
One potentially bad phrase that we have decided to allow is “free-balling” as in when Michael changes into pajamas for the night and makes the decision to forgo underwear.
“Mommy, I’m free-balling.”
“That’s great, Michael. Our dinner guests appreciate knowing that.”
What we didn’t quite expect were some of the logical eventualities of this minor linguistic transgression.
“Daddy, I’m free-balling, just like Michael tonight.”
“Well Jane, that’s nice, Honey, but I don’t think it works the same way for you.”
And my personal favorite: “Michael, you’re wearing underwear tonight?”
“Yeah Dad, no free-balling with these pajamas.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t want to catch my pee-pee in the zipper again.”
One of the little known benefits to raising kids has been that Wifey and I use a lot less profanity. It’s true. With Michael now sounding out any attempted transgressions, we’ve essentially been forced to forgo swearing like sailors in favor of speaking the Queen’s English.
I laugh at my anger and frustration a good bit more than I used to as well. If for no other reason than the sheer ridiculousness of having to spell out vulgarity; it just seems to provoke humor and that’s a good thing. According to a well-circulated study on baseball cards from the 50s, people who smile and laugh or even artificially show some pearly enamel for baseball card photos lived an average of seven years longer compared to the pouty-mouths. The free-balling discussions, potty-talk debates, and the short-stopped curse phonics, though it can all be vexing, still has brought a smile to my face; and for that, research says, I’ll live longer.
M.C. Behm’s columns appear every other Saturday in the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He is a full-time resident of South Lake Tahoe and author of the forthcoming novel “The Elixir of Yosemite.” To learn more or respond to columns visit http://www.mcbehm.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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