“So, we need to make a list of words and phrases that we mustn’t use,” announced my oldest son a couple of weeks ago. We were eating supper round the table at the time and as far as I can remember no one had just been rude or insulting, but then perhaps I’m just inured to the open aggression that flies about the place and which three young boys seem to accept as humour. And in any case, are the harsh words they sometimes use towards each-other any worse or more difficult to be near than the physical aggression they accept as ‘play’? “OK,” I said with encouragement. I’m always very pleased when he appears to want to implement some structure in his life, no matter how small, even something as simple as a list. It’s so alien to him usually.
Immediately he leapt up from the table and grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, despite not having finished his meal. He’s not the only one who does this. For some reason these boys simply can’t stay seated for an entire dinner, and spend most of the time finding reasons to spring from their bottoms constantly. And as for the middle one – he’s got jumping beans in his pants and is genuinely unaware, I’m sure, that a seat is for sitting on, despite my constant pleading, commanding and finally demanding that he ‘sit down!’ each and every evening. I feel myself wanting to erupt and am on the point of yelling, a litany of aggressive language desperate to explode out of my mouth, when fortunately and just in time I remember my son’s desire to do away with harsh language.
The boys make a list of phrases and words they can’t say and all, especially the youngest one, enjoy very much the business of saying the words in order to put them on the list of words that can’t be said.
“So mum, what can’t you say?” I’m reluctant to give up any language. But it’s right we don’t insult each other constantly even though there are moments when the impulse to is overwhelming. Eventually I say, “Obviously, all the words you’ve already listed”, and then I also stupidly offer the word ‘twit’. Straight way I retract my offer. How on earth will I get through life if I can’t transform the genuinely dreadful words that are in my mind into a relatively benign and ineffectual word, used by Roald Dahl never forget, when I want to express my rage because they won’t put their shoes on, refuse to get dressed, or forget to throw away sweet wrappers and leave them on the floor instead? “Nope!” says the oldest one, “you’ve given it up. It’s on the list”.
“Mum needs to say, twit!” says the youngest with force.
“N0!” replied his brother.
“You take twit off the list now or I’ll hit you really hard with my fists!” Oh, I think to myself, this moment hasn’t unfolded so well.
The words bounce of the big one, and he says calmly, “Well, if she’s allowed to call us twits, then we can call her one.”
At which point the littlest walks up to his bother and punches him in the stomach. “Mum can say twit,” he yells, “and you can’t!!!” For a moment, I’m so proud of him and his desire to protect and fight for me with such passion. It’s too adorable. Although I do see it’s not so great that it comes with such a hefty blow to his sibling. Thankfully, rather than prompting my first-born into a full-on fist fight with his four-year old brother, which has been known, Mr. Sensible laughs and tells us he’s happy to remove twit from the list, leaving me at least one word to insult them all with when I feel like it. By now the middle child is laughing hysterically because seeing a four-year old take such command over everthing is simply the funniest thing he can imagine.
I don’t know what eventually happened to that list. It lay on the kitchen counter for a couple of days and hasn’t been seen since. I thought about it afterwards and felt, as much as I agree with choosing to be kind to each-other over meanness, removing words from our language entirely actually presents us with different problems. There is always a cost. Making words illicit risks giving them greater power, and probation tends to force things underground. When we’re angry, instead of expressing it we risk suppressing how we feel if there is no medium for communicating it. And suppressed anger leads to bad feelings building up inside and transforming into trapped emotional wind. And we all know what that results in. It’s painful and uncomfortable and stinks when it escapes. Passive-aggressive language is far worse is my mind than outright verbal insults, even though those aren’t great either. At least you know where you are with open and honest words. But in the end you can’t have small children wondering about the place calling each-other by unmentionable names and shouting out swearwords really loudly down the street now, can you? So, we currently have no contraband list in the house, but we know we’re all OK with twit and flippin’ or frikkin’. Personnally, I tried friggin’ for a while until I thought about it and resolved that friggin’ was no less ‘rude’ than fucking when you get down to it, although it’s often used as a replacement. I’m not sure you can wonder round saying you ‘friggin’ anything at all to your kids. But I am sure there are times when you and they have just got to say something!
Image (c)SJField 2015