4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
When I was a kid, a young kid, like with a Benjamin Franklin lunchbox with a Liberty Bell cartoon on it, I was what they call “a pottymouth”. I was old enough to read and old enough to write, maybe third or fourth grade, and I would write the dirtiest things in my little red, faux-leather covered diary.
I drew penises and wrote curse words and cursed out my parents, my mother mostly, who was strict and big on grounding us for long periods of time. It’s said that once, for a whole month during the summer, I couldn’t go outside to play, that’s what it meant to be grounded. (Now my family is known for hyperbole when it comes to memories that put anyone in a bad light so take this with a grain of salt, but the story goes…)
The crime wasn’t even memorable, at least to me anyway. It was either for being 15 minutes late coming home for dinner or for stepping in the debris my mother had just swept into a pile but hadn’t gotten into the dustpan yet, depending on who you ask. (All this, by the way, made much more sense to me when I became a mother myself and had overwhelming days with my four healthy kids and then imagined my mother with her messy, messed-up five. I would have grounded the crap out of us if I were her, but I digress.)
It was a confusing time. My dad had gotten sick. I was a dorky kid who had some friends but was struggling to navigate the intricacies of elementary school. I was starting to sense that our household was so not normal although I didn’t quite understand how or why. I was lost without a map. I was a kid in a house where her single role was to make everything smoother and better, where me doing anything wrong was absolutely unacceptable. So I became a kid with a secret mouth like a toilet and a bedroom like a garbage dump.
In the happy land where all wrongs are righted, I’m now the woman with the sparkling Good Housekeeping house and nothing but gold encrusted butterfly wings coming out of my mouth. But apparently, that’s not so.
About six months ago, walking through the woods with my kids I stopped suddenly and (I think) said, “Ding dang! We’re lost!” And even though we weren’t deeply lost, we were under a time constraint to be somewhere and our location deep in the woods with my four young ones suggested we wouldn’t make it home anytime soon. I saw the look of fear in the kids’ eyes and changed my tune to, “Well, we’re not lost so much as we’re not where Mama wants us to be yet.” We walked on and after a hundred more feet or so the five-year-old in the lead, pivoted in a circle and said, “Oh, shit! We’re totally lost!”
It was so perfectly timed and clearly enunciated I almost could have not noticed it. Until I took a second and, “What?! What did you say?!”
And after a bit of, “What? Who? Huh?” my five-year-old copped to the truth. “Oh, shit? We’re lost?”
I then explained how that was something grown-ups could say but not kids because grown-ups knew how to use it appropriately, just like the words hate, fat, and stupid. Grown-ups are absolutely awesome at using those words. I said that when a kid said the word shit it was like putting pollution out into the air and then into people’s brains. (My kids don’t like pollution. Totally effective parenting, right?)
The horrible thing was, I wondered if he heard it from me. It was like the time in my twenties when a good friend told me she was gay and I had to hurriedly scroll through the last six years of our friendship while smiling lovingly and nodding supportively. There I was, inspecting all our conversations wondering whether I had misused the word gay or repeated some offensive homophobic thing my father had said. (Actually, that was so much worse.)
I was programmed badly by my parents. The word shit is a Groeber classic. My father had a stamp that said “BULLSHIT” and I once stamped that stamp up and down my arms right before church when I was young enough to get away with it but old enough to definitely know better. Shit was our word. In fact, “Shit’s up” were reportedly my father’s last words.
When the Verizon truck backed up onto the minivan last Fall? “Blarging! Furda! Blug!” When I got hit in the chin hard by the top of Reid’s head tonight, “Flug!” When the Simon Pearce bowl went slow-motion cartwheeling off the counter? Well, okay. I actually did curse, but I sent the kids outside first.
Because I don’t curse in front of my kids. I really try not to. I try not to even write it where they’ll see it once they’re old enough to read. I can only do so much each day, have so much patience, perform so many kind acts. Then I run out. Mama’s spirit can be about as easily broken as that bowl. But this I can mostly do. I can swallow the wealth of dirty, chunky, bilious, rotten curses that pop into my mind.
But damn if I don’t think ’em. And let it rip on ladies’ night. I guess you can take the #$%^% out of the potty mouth, but you can’t take the potty mouth out of the Martha Flocking Mama.
Ding dang right.