Oliver came home from school one day last year, practically giddy with the news.
“Guess what L said to me at lunch?”
“Your sandwich smells?” I guessed.
O leaned in close to me, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “He said, ‘What the eff.’ But he didn’t say ‘eff.’ He said the real word.”
I tried to look blasé. “And what did you say?”
“I told him it was a bad word and not appropriate for school.”
“That’s right,” I said, inwardly giving myself a smug pat on the back for my most excellent parenting.
“It’s only appropriate when you’re driving or when you’re talking to Linda,” he continued along pedantically, as if he were reciting Latin declensions. “Or when you’re in the kitchen and something goes wrong with a recipe …”
He continued with his list of appropriate what the eff moments as I thought, Wait, I’m in the kitchen all the time. I’m always screwing up recipes. WTF?
And I thought I was doing well up to this point. My younger brother Matt had told me on his first day of kindergarten, the older kids on his bus had taught him some rudimentary Anglo-Saxon and how to give drivers the middle finger. It gave me the idea that when I had children, it might be a good idea to teach them dirty words myself, explain what they mean, and when it’s appropriate — if ever — to use them. I figured my rational approach to dirty words would disarm any power they might have over my child’s tongue. And it seemed to work because I’ve never heard O say anything worse than ‘fart’ — and for the record, whenever he says it, I tell him the correct word is flatulence or ‘gas’ and please don’t say that eff word at school, either.
We’ve been reading Katherine Lasky’s wonderful series, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, where the owl characters have a very, very dirty word in their vocabulary: racdrops. Racdrops is short for ‘raccoon droppings,’ and since the owls of the books loathe raccoons and dislike animals with messy bowel habits, it’s one of the worst words they can utter in anger. So I came up with the brilliant idea one day that O should adopt this word as his own personal eff word. He loved the idea. Soon he was playing with his Legos and exclaiming “Racdrops!” when he couldn’t find the right block. Or “Racdrops!” when I said no to takeout pizza. It was Racdrops this and Racdrops that. Even I started saying it in the kitchen when I’d get some egg shell in my pancake batter, or cut my finger on a can’s edge. Then O told me some of the kids in his class were saying “Racdrops!” too.
“Cool,” I said. “They must like Guardians of Ga’Hoole.”
Oliver gave me a funny look. “No, I taught it to them.”