Let’s talk about language. And no, I don’t mean the essentials of learning words, grammar, and how to use them. Mimi’s not had much trouble with that, due in no small part to the chatty genes she got from her mum, and the fact that we both basically talked to her non-stop from day one. Her language skills are often complimented, but again, that’s not what I mean. I mean BAD language!
So let’s talk about foul language; swearing, profanity, your basic effing and blinding. Just a few days ago our innocent, blonde, blue-eyed girl while gazing out the window, turned to me and said: “Dada, would you look at that f#@*%ng rain!”.
Needless to say, I felt shocked, outraged, guilty, and (I must admit) secretly amused. After trying not to make a big deal of it, telling her that that word was a nonsense word, I had to consider where she might have picked that up and how do you deal with a toddler who swears like a sailor with piles?
Part of our Irish character is the ability to drop a perfectly timed F-bomb, bad language is part of our natural expressiveness. But I’d prefer that my angelic almost-three-year-old didn’t add such ornamentation to her vocabulary just yet. I won’t claim to be blameless here, I let the odd expletive slip through occasionally, but ever since I realised that our little girl was a total sponge for words; repeating anything new and committing it to memory from early on, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my language as clean as possible. But whatever effort we might make at home, there’s no avoiding the fact that she’s going to hear these words. They’ll come from older kids playing in the park or street, and from adults who don’t remember to mind their Ps and Qs around little ones. And for a kid who loves to talk, these words are new and exciting, she’s probably dying for an opportunity to use ‘shitehawk’ or ‘bollocks’ in context. What chance do we stand of keeping her mouth unsullied by such joyously filthy words?
Case in point is the swimming pool changing rooms. We go practically every week, and have since Mimi was six months old. It’s only now I’m starting to have reservations about bringing my daughter into the men’s locker room; not because of nudity, we’re not so prudish as to try to censor biology, but the talk she’ll hear there. Now the phenomenon of ‘locker room talk’ has had some airing lately, along with the ‘boys will be boys’ crap, and I feel there is yet more detriment to it than is acknowledged. In the space of time it took us to walk past two older ‘gentlemen’ who were sat outside the sauna, Mimi and I heard at least six f**ks and two or three other choice words. Come on, guys. It’s a gym, not a western saloon! Would it be so hard to regulate your language? There’s going to be kids there. Could you do us parents a favour and save us the hassle of explaining why calling another kid a ‘gobshite’ isn’t a nice thing to do? And it’s not just because she’s a girl, if I had a son I’d be equally outraged at having his vocabulary so appended.
My own father was a teacher of english, and despite his mastery of the language, he also acknowledged the power of a timely, well-chosen profanity. His explanation of ‘country matters’ in Hamlet was an eye-opener for me! So when the time comes, I’ll absolutely coach Mimi in how to use words to their best effect, but please, just not yet. I suppose there is some comfort to be taken from studies which claim that those who swear more are smarter people, but the realist in me is terrified of the prospect of her being judged for the words she uses – that she might be thought a ruffian, a slattern. It’s hard enough for girls to advance themselves in our still-unequal society, she doesn’t need any extra obstacles. If you’ll allow me: F*ck that sh*t!