The major milestones of growing up keep coming whether you’re ready for them or not. But I wasn’t really expecting my six- and barely five-year-olds to speak the F bomb yet. Mind you, I wouldn’t label myself as naive per se; I know my children are going to be some of the first to hear all sorts of dirty little words because our last name is Virgin. But they are not ready to understand them. So though the world eventually teaches them things we don’t want them to know and aren’t ready to explain, we don’t have to succumb to some unspecified, ethereal pressure to acquiesce to changing times and the notion that “kids just grow up faster these days.” Instead, I had a response prepared.
The kids came in the door from school as usual and dumped their stuff everywhere. Within seconds Eliza informed me that there was a big discussion in carpool about what the worst word was. I said, “Okay, what is it?” After several reassurances that she would not be in trouble, she said, clear as day, “Eff” (the word – the F-dash-dash-dash word). I think I said, “Huh, okay” and walked away like it was no big deal. This is step number 1 in dealing with this – don’t act like it’s a big deal. Step #2 is returning to the discussion calmly and when you have time. For me, that was a few minutes later.
Me: “Okay, sweetie, can you tell me more about what happened in the car?”
Her: “Well, Zach said the worst word is stupid. And (our carpool buddy) said, ‘No it’s not, F-dash-dash-dash is.'”
Me: “Oh. Okay.”
Her: “Is he right?”
Me: “Well, it is a very bad word, yes. It is not nice.”
Her: “What does it mean?”
Me: “What did your friend say it means?”
Her: “Just like dumb, stupid, mean. Is that what it means?”
Me: “No, that’s not what it means.”
Her: “Will you tell me what it means?”
Here is where the preparation came in. A friend of mine told me she had read about how one father had his son fill their biggest suitcase full and then asked him to pick it up. The boy could not, and his father explained to him that the EFF word was like that suitcase; that someday, he’d be able to handle it, but that for now, the word was just too heavy for him. Without actually packing a suitcase, I went through this demonstration with Eliza. She pondered this a moment, and then asked “Will you tell me when I’m 11?” And I said, “Yes, I can tell you when you’re 11.” Then, of course, she asked about when she’s 10, nine, and finally we settled on when she’s eight. And that was it.
It has been several weeks since then, and she and Zach haven’t revisited it. I should say that Zach could not have cared less about the word or the carpool conversation, which was great. But the fact that Eliza let it go is pretty miraculous.
Of course, since then, Eliza for no reason at all blurted out the word “sex” and stared me straight in the eyes to see my reaction. I met her gaze and firmly asked, “What did you say?” And then she made up something I don’t remember. And I said, “Huh, okay.” And I dropped it. But when I hear it again, because I know I will hear it again, I will revisit the suitcase example and explain that she can count on being strong enough to handle that word when she’s eight as well. I just hope I can hold off on explaining Virgin to them until then, too, because I don’t really want to communicate to our children that their last name is a “bad word.” But if I explain Virgin, well, I kind of have to explain sex. And probably the mother of all words as well.
Does anyone have another trick besides the suitcase one? I might need it.