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24 Oct

Running Off At The Mouth

I have been known to curse. I have been known to curse a lot. But I curse only under very strictly controlled circumstances, which is to say, only in the company of close friends and/or in situations where the cursing will be received as the colourful flourish of language that it is meant to be and not taken in offense. This, I know, sort of defeats the purpose of cursing, but still. It’s cursing.

I like cursing, when it is skilfully deployed. Cursing that issues from poor language skills and a want of vocabulary is not interesting to me. I like creative cursing, cursing that adds colour, cursing that makes a point. I like the cursing of dirty-minded old professors and grannies who like to shock. More than this, I like the cursing of pre-pubescent boys, of children who are just learning that there is a world of language beyond the polite language that is encouraged at home and in schoolrooms, a world of language that is dark and dirty and forbidden and thrilling beyond measure. I like the delicious thrill of using such forbidden words, of lacing a statement with unexpected threads, with vowels and consonants that – when put together just so – shock.

I could offer all variety of academic defense for this taste – the greatest comic poet in Western history, Aristophanes, was a master of the profane, of the extraordinarily profane; the second greatest comic poet, Shakespeare, was a skilled practitioner – but at the end of the day, it comes down to this, I think: that part of my soul which responds to comedy is inhabited almost entirely by the spirit of a twelve-year old boy, a youth who leaves his home each morning well-scrubbed and well-schooled in his manners but who spends his time between schoolroom and home scrambling up trees and tearing holes in the knees of his trousers and sharing dirty jokes and dirty stories and using filthy language with his friends before returning home to his parents in dire need of a hot bath and perhaps a soapy scrub-out of the mouth.

This boy is well-disciplined: he knows when to hold his tongue and he knows that the joy of cursing and the thrill of dirty stories are directly proportionate to the discipline with which language and comportment are otherwise held. That’s what makes the cursing fun, what makes it exciting: the contrast between it and the larger share of his developing verbal skill. He plays word games with the words that are forbidden, in the recesses and lunch-breaks of his day-to-day discourse. He passes notes when he get away with it; dirty puns scratched out in crumpled paper and passed covertly to comrades-in-arms, ever careful to not let anyone see or hear who shouldn’t see or hear. It’s a secret language, a fun language, the language of play. He never swears in front of teachers or authority figures or anyone with delicate ears. And never, ever in front of small children.

Never, that is, unless he’s caught in a maelstrom of hormones and loses hold of the discipline that otherwise serves him so well. The hormones catch him up and he loses control, gets caught. The hormones do it; hormones of the sort that plague pubescent children, and pregnant women.

I am ordinarily so well-disciplined when it comes to cursing that you could get me stone drunk and, if there were anyone at the table who I felt should not hear me curse, not a single profanity would issue from my lips. Not a single one. Now, the tiniest surge of hormones and the slightest provocation and I’m cursing like a trucker in front of my toddler:

Spoon hurled from toddler seat: SHIT.

Macaroni hurled from toddler seat: OH SHIT.

Banana hurled from toddler seat: GODDAMN IT.

Masticated bananas hurled from toddler mouth, after toddler gags self with spoon: F*CK (while running off to toilet to retch.)

My husband gets cross. You shouldn’t swear in front of her, he says. She’s listening to you.

I KNOW she’s listening, goddamnit! I say. I KNOW I shouldn’t swear. I KNOW. SORRY! GAWD! (stomp off to retch in toilet.)

I know she’s listening, because she laughs. She knows good cursing when she hears it; she knows that Mommy’s not supposed to be saying those things; she knows that this is all somehow forbidden in the very best, most delicious way. Sometimes, now, when I’m just at the end of my rope, she’ll look me in the eye and hold her juice cup out in front of her and then – still looking me in the eye – tip it over, dumping the contents on the floor, and say OH SHIT.

Then she says, uh-oh, made MESS, paper towel peeeease. SOWWY! GAWD!

(Then, crouching on the floor with her paper towel, because, no, I am not above letting my daughter scrub the floor if she asks: cleeeeean up! cleeeeean up! in a cheery sing-song voice. It’s a lot twisted, I know.)

I think that it’s a sort of Pregnancy Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s not that I’m wandering around blurting random profanity; it’s that I’ve lost all control of my emotions and and have completely lost place of my censor button. I never know when I’m going to burst into tears or giggle inappropriately, and I certainly don’t know when I am going to respond to some real or imagined disaster of any real or imagined magnitude (toddler hurling banana, me spilling tea, Blogger losing my post, cat meowing too loudly) with a staccato round of curses: shitdamndamnshit!

I don’t want to do this; I really don’t. I want Wonderbaby’s exposure to cursing to be limited, so that she can come to know it for what it is, a forbidden language, one that you only get to play with once you’ve grown up and proven yourself able in the practice of bidden language. I don’t want her to understand curses as adjectives that serve any purpose, anywhere, anytime; I don’t want her ears to become to dulled to their edge.

But at the moment, I don’t know how to curb my profanity, how to stop running off at the mouth, how to get my emotions back in check, how to regain control.

Short of duct-taping my mouth shut – which would, I’m guessing, only aggravate the nausea and vomiting – what can I do? And, is it just me?