Janice was a girl who lived around the block from our house when I was growing up. She was cool, but also a little rough around the edges. She always seemed to be into the bad stuff just a little too soon.
One time, I, my sister Jill, and Janice were hanging out in our backyard and playing some game where we were jumping off our picnic table. During one of her jumps, Janice mooned us on her way down and my sister and I had no idea how to react except to later agree in private to not hang out with Janice anymore. I still have the image of Janice’s bare butt imbedded deep into my psyche, and not in a good way because I never thought of Janice like that. (Possibly with good reason. My sister said the last time she saw her, Janice had short, spiked hair and was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and holding hands with her girlfriend.)
A few months later, after avoiding Janice at all costs lest I fall victim to having to see her butt cheeks in midair again, I was walking home from my cousin’s house when Janice rode past me on her bike. As she did, she said, “Hey, _____ _________” and what she said was THE worst curse word you can say that begins pleasantly enough, with “mother.” I had no idea what this meant. Remember—I was still at the age where seeing a girl’s butt was offensive, so I didn’t know any real curses. I even thought maybe it was a compliment, and that I was reluctantly friends with Janice again, two close-knit _____ _________s.
That evening, my mom accompanied me and my sisters on a leisurely stroll around the block. My sisters were actually riding their bikes as my mom and I walked, and while I’m unsure why I left my bike behind, it did give me the opportunity to ask my mom, who was no doubt enjoying this sunset-inspired time with her kids and reveling in motherhood itself, the question, “Mom, what’s a _____ _________?”
My mom’s reaction was similar to that of a mom on “Maury” who just discovered “the child is NOT his,” and for a second I thought all 40 pounds of me was going to have to catch her on the way down. And that is how I found out about that particular curse word. Also, my mom suddenly found herself in support of me and my sister’s strategy of avoiding Janice.
While there is evidence our culture has become looser and less structured since then, the reality is that words once commonplace for us as kids are banned in our house. Words like “hate,” “stupid,” and even “heck” are no-nos for our girls. So when our youngest, while getting washed up for bed, claimed a girl in her class was saying bad words, my wife decided to humor her. I mean, what could it be, “poopy?”
Girl 2: MOMMY, MOMMY, BWITTANY C. SAID A BAD WUUUHD TODAY.
Wife: Oh, really?
Girl 2: YEAH IT WAS WEALLY BAD. I DON’T WANT TO WEPEAT IT.
Wife: Why don’t you whisper it into my ear and I’ll decide.
Girl 2: (leans in close, then pulls back, looks my wife right in the eyes and … gives her the finger)
I heard this conversation while downstairs washing the dishes, and hearing my wife’s reaction brought me back to my own mom’s reaction so many years ago. I was very curious as to what our daughter had learned at school, and when my wife later told me while trying in vain to hold back a smile, I was speechless.
Well, I wasn’t that speechless. I had one thing to say. It begins pleasantly enough.
Note: This column appears in the 11/6 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/7 issue of the Peoria Times.