requent scenario on the streets of Rome: My kids are blabbing, chatting, complaining or melting down — in English. They’re busy using my mother tongue when an older Italian woman comes up and says, “My, your children speak perfect English.” I reply, “Yes, and they speak Italian, too.”
“Che bello! Che fortuna!” she’ll say. How nice. They are so lucky.
And they are. Because switching language channels for an old hag like myself is no picnic. Bilingual kids don’t need to switch. Research shows that language skills develop as a whole. Children who start life with two languages are mother tongue bilingual.
That said, my kids actually speak three languages: English, Italian and the international language of boy (punch, kick, push and shove), an instinctual physical language that comes ahead of conjugating Italian verbs or spouting American slang.
For a mother who grew up in a house full of girls, this leaves me screaming mad. Which leads me to another language topic: Cursing. My cursing.
From time to time, I do rat myself out. This is one of those times.
I feel as though I do an enormous amount of work as a mother (aside from the slave labor of cleaning), but I’m far from perfect. In fact, one of my many defects is language-related. I like to drop the F bomb. There I said it. Or didn’t.
Hear me out. The F word is cathartic. It can act as noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun or conjunction. You can use it in a subordinate clause, a time clause or even when referring to Santa Clause. (“That f*@%ing guy.”) In short, it’s a word that’s close to my heart and rolls frequently off my tongue.
That might sound vulgar, I know. When I hear certain people punctuating with “F this…” and “F that…” I cringe. But I feel like I deserve a free pass because I have a large enough vocabulary and use f @% carefully, sometimes as an artistic choice. (I guess you could say I am a hoity toity mother f*@%er.)
Then last month, my seven-year-old said, “Something-something-something. F*@%.”
My ears rang. I wanted to scream, “What the f*@% did you just say?”
Instead, I said, “You don’t say that word. You don’t ever say that word.”
“You say it,” he replied.
“Yes, but it isn’t nice and it’s an adult word.”
I held my breath hoping that was enough. No such luck.
His reply: “If it isn’t nice, no one should say it, and I don’t want you to say it.”
Busted by a baby.
“You’re right. I won’t say it. I’ll say fudge instead.”
“Fudge? That’s not a bad word?”
“Nope it’s just a chocolate confectionary treat.”
I thought long and hard about that conversation and decided to try to rein in my Irish temper. But driving around last week, my Roman road rage got the best of me (Disclaimer: If you’ve ever seen or been in Roman traffic you’ve already forgiven me). A car straddling two right lanes (pick a lane, buddy) cut me off to make a left.
“You f*@%ing moron!” I hollered.
“Mom!” my seven-year-old reprimanded me. “You don’t say that word!”
“You’re right. I’m sorry but that guy is driving like a lunatic!”
“Then say that.”
When your hyperactive seven-year-old has more reasoning skills than you do, you know you need to use the meditation app on your iPhone more often.
At this point my four-year-old chimed in with, “Don’t tell Mommy what to say. She is the boss.”
To which the sensitive seven-year-old countered, “I don’t like it when she says it.”
To which the four-year-old rebutted, “Well I do! I like the way it sounds and I like the way it feels. And I want mommy to say F*@%!”
Then they began to battle in the backseat using their third boy language (slapping, grabbing, pulling, etc), literally brawling over my use of the F word while buckled in to their child safety belts and seats.
I didn’t know what to do. I did know I didn’t want to wreck the car. So I screamed, “F*@%ing stop it!”
And they did.