On Inadvertently Teaching My Toddler Obscene Language

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The moment I said “Don’t lick balls, honey,” I knew I had made a terrible mistake.

It wasn’t like I planned on saying such a thing.  It just came out.  I swear!  Audrey had come bounding into the living room with her giant yellow bouncy ball the other day.  And, for some unknown reason, she was licking it.  Happily, I might add.  But that sort of behavior is gross and unbecoming of such a beautiful young lady, so I said the above line.  And she promptly proceeded to do exactly what I had feared:  “I lick balls!  I lick balls!”  Damn it.

Just damn it.

Us parents work hard to keep the naughty bits from bombarding our children’s eardrums.  Some of us admittedly go a bit too far at times–just because we’re around children doesn’t mean we need to talk like them–but generally we’re pretty good about keeping the F, S, C, Mother F, God D, and Son-of-a-B Bombs to the side when they’re not appropriate.  But those are just the obvious examples.  The truth is the line between clean and dirty can get a bit grey at times.  A good example took place recently while my daughter was sitting on her little girl’s potty.  I had to take a constitutional myself–the stand up kind–so I took care of business beside her.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at my manly bits.  The correct answer, of course, was “Penis.”  But did I say that?  No.  Instead I spun away from her–avoiding yet another disastrous mess by the slimmest of margins–and said, not unlike an inquisitive teenager caught looking at porn, “Nothing!”  Sigh.  I’m embarrassed just typing that.  I’m thirty-six years old for Christ’s sake.  I shouldn’t be guiltily chirping “Nothing!” for any reason.  But that was what I did, all because I was afraid to say the word “penis” in front of my 2-year-old daughter.

The fear, in my mind at least, comes from a worry that Audrey will start marching up and down the street blurting “Penis!” to any and all passers-by.  (For some reason my mind also conjures up a marching band baton in her hand.  I’m weird, I know.)  I don’t need people thinking that I’m some sort of creep.  Or worse.  I suppose I could have used “wee-wee” instead, but here comes that part about being thirty-six again.  I can’t be saying “wee-wee”.  “Manly bits” maybe, but that’s also something I don’t need her parading through town.

I have had a similar experience with the word “fart”.  Now, we all know that “fart” is a joyous, endlessly funny word.  And I’m sure Audrey will discover its inherent pleasure some day too.  But at the age of two…well, “fart” suddenly turns into a gateway drug.  Next thing I know she’ll be saying “ass” and “penis” and then it will be all over for me.  But, because farts are a far more common occurrence around the house than penises–thankfully–I have tried alternatives with her, like “gassy”.  With some success too.  But I can’t help but feel like I’m being a bit hypocritical.  After all, “poop” is a very well known term to Audrey.  And my wife and I have no problem with her saying it.  So why not “fart”?  Or “penis”?  There’s that grey area again.

So where does this leave us?  For one thing, I think we can all agree that children shouldn’t be saying “I lick balls.”  All the verbal bombs too.  But there remain a great number of words floating around in the middle ground.  And while we might sometimes worry that our kids will repeat something borderline–me included–we should probably learn to relax about it too.  Because no self-respecting adult need say, “Nothing!”

Trust me.

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