Margaret’s vocabulary has exploded recently. We can barely keep up. She rambles off something and we stare at her trying to figure out what she’s trying to say in her developing pronunciation. We can tell that she’s trying to say a full sentence but her mouth only lets some of it out: “I boollies, PLEASE!” She means, “I’d like some blueberries, please.” She usually emphasizes the “please” because we remind her to ask for things nicely, which means she yells PLEASE at the end of her requests. But then there are times when she says something like, “I obarmer elle.” For weeks we had no idea what she was trying to say. We’d responded, “yeah…OK,” encouragingly, trying to draw out what she could possibly mean. As her pronunciation got a little better, it became: “I a fahmer. Ellef.” Translation: “I’m a farmer. Elephant.” Naturally.
She’s also picked up on an abstract phrase. She likes to announce when she passes gas. She’ll yell, “TOOT!” Or if she’s in the middle of saying something, she’ll pause briefly, say “toot,” and carry on. While we were on vacation this summer, we were talking about what a froggy says: “libbit, libbit,” according to Margaret. Then we saw two frogs in 1 day. I’m not sure why, but when I was holding her and she tooted, I asked her if she had a froggy in her diaper. At first she thought I was being literal (and maybe freaked out a little), but then after I explained I was talking about her toot, she got it. Now she’ll also say, “foggy in dayper,” when she toots. Adorable.
Last weekend, however, Margaret yelled “dammit!” as clear as day when she knocked a can off the shelf at Whole Foods. Not exactly adorable, but I was equal parts mortified and proud. She yelled a swear word (however mild it might be) in a public place, but she used it correctly. I can’t say I would have reacted differently if I had knocked the can off the shelf. She continued to say “dammit” throughout our shopping trip. There were so many parents shopping with toddlers at the same time as us. Why were there so many toddlers there?! I’m sure they all heard. I’m assuming they’re all saying dammit now, too. When it comes to swear words, though, “dammit” is about as vanilla as they come, even less offensive than “crap.” It has no implications of poop, sex, butts, lady bits, illegitimate offspring, or female dogs. It’s not offensive in any way, really. Another positive is that I made it out of Whole Foods spending just over $100. This might be partly because I was racing through the store while Margaret let lose her dammit diatribe. (So, swear words for the win, there!)
While she was on her tear, I tried redirecting:
Me: Margaret let’s sing a song, Old McMargaret had a farm e-i-e-i-o, and on that farm she had a…
I tried telling her not to say dammit, but that only fueled the fire.
Me: Margaret, please don’t say that word.
Margaret: Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!
Here she is in the car when we were leaving Whole Foods:
After the initiation of her new word, Margaret sprinkled dammits here and there in her usual conversations.
In the story of what will likely be her first memory—when she touched the side of the grill on the 4th of July and burned her finger: “What happen? I touch da gill. It burn…dammit.” (Note: she has this entire conversation with herself.)
When talking about her love affair with pasta: “Cheesy pata [pasta], pata salad. I like pata…dammit.”
When engaged in her favorite pastime—taking care of her dolls and stuffed animals: “Dammit? Dammit? Dammit? Ok, babies? You need cubers [covers]?”
When talking about how she shared a bike with her friend: “I share bike with Jackin (Jackson). Share bike…dammit.”
When she knocked over the tube of toothpaste on the bathroom counter while brushing her teeth: “Dammit.”
When she put a smiley face sticker on the kitchen table: “Color on paper?” she said to me. “Yes, color on the paper, please,” I said back. “Stickers?” she said and then put one on the table: “Dammit!” (her, not me).
These are just a few examples of Margaret’s dammit embellishments. She talks a lot, and I’ve been ignoring when she says dammit since it seems any acknowledgement makes it worse. (I’m not saying I haven’t also been stiffling a laugh.) You never know, maybe dammit is the gateway swear word, and if she keeps it up, she’ll want to try ass or shit, and if she goes that far, she might be dropping f-bombs by the time she’s 2. It could be a slippery slope, people.
Henning and I were talking about it, and he suggested that maybe she had heard dammit in Whole Foods and had just repeated it. I stared at him for a few seconds, and then told him, no, like the 1980s PSA, she learned it from watching us. If you ever wonder how you sound to your toddler and what words you say, just listen to her in the back seat while you’re running errands. “Maaargaret! What in the world!” is apparently something we say to her a lot. Swearing is something we’ve tried to avoid. I would say we’ve cut it out completely, but sometimes it just slips out, usually from my mouth. Henning is doing a much better job than I am. He’s been able to swap out shits and fucks for poops and…poops; not exactly a one-to-one trade-off, but it’s better than me spewing, “arhga fu la sh ga ahhhh!” My brain just can’t seem to jump into the creative swears and gets stuck on nonsensical syllables. I’m trying. I do say “mother of pearl!” a lot.
So far, it seems like ignoring Margaret’s little swears is working. If we had a plaque posting the time since her last swear, the sign would say:
It would be nice if she could just keep a lid on it in public. It’s not that I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad mother. It’s more that I don’t want people to think Margaret is a bad child. I don’t want people to think less of her because she yells dammit in public. She doesn’t know any better, and I’m trying to figure out how to teach her. The Monday after the Whole Foods incident, I texted her teacher to let her know that Margaret said dammit (a lot) and that I hope she doesn’t say it at school. She hasn’t so far. Her teacher joked, “Oh, no! Not the D-word!” It does seem like a silly word to get worked up about. When Margaret is older and has a firmer grasp on social acceptability, I’m not sure how we’ll handle swearing at home. Will we keep it G rated or will we toe the line at PG-13? I’m not sure.
Margaret told me the other day that she took a nap on me on the “hairplane.” She’s right. She fell asleep on me on our way back from visiting my family in Virginia. This happened 3 weeks ago. I asked her if she liked her nap with me on the “hairplane,” and she said, “Yes.” Not only does she have a lot to say, she’s also forming sweet memories. So, for now, I’ll take the good with the dammits. I love listening to her, even if she lets slip some swear words. Believe me, Margaret, I know how hard it can be to hold them in.
What has your child said that’s embarrassed you in public? Do you have little swearers? How have you handled it?