Learning to Speak, Again

By Nora Heston Tarte

Cleaning up your vocabulary is part of getting pregnant.

It’s like the day you learn you are with child you start actively avoiding the expletives that probably found their way into your conversations more often than you’d like to admit. And then, you get lucky, because you have at least a year before you really have to stop dropping bombs. Before then, your kids are too young to pick up on it.

I make a conscious effort and I’d like to think I do pretty well. I won’t pretend I’ve never accidentally dropped a foul word in front of my son—because I have and I’ve heard him repeat it—but most of the time, I keep it pretty PG. The problem is, I didn’t realize how many other words I’d have to drop from my vocabulary to raise a well-mannered kid.

It’s words we don’t think twice about using: stupid, dumb, kill, dead. I used to call stuff stupid all the time. Now I can’t because my son started calling people stupid and that’s frowned upon on the playground. He still says it occasionally when he’s mad but when I say it, in any context, I’m corrected. “We don’t say stupid, Mom! That’s mean!” I don’t know who is doing the parenting.

I never really put much thought into the words dead or kill either. Obviously violence is too much for a toddler but I used to tell my son, “you kill me!” when he’d make me laugh. Then I had a two-year-old who walked around laughing and telling people he kills them, or he kills mom. It wasn’t a good look.

Short of becoming Mary Poppins I’m not sure how to be 100 percent politically correct in the preschool world. My son attends a religious preschool so I’ve had to go as far as to teach his nana that we can’t say “Oh my God!” anymore. It’s “oh my gosh,” or “oh, goodness.” The day my son dropped a “God Bless America!” out of frustration in his preschool classroom (a phrase that sounds like a 65-year-old man would say it because he learned it from his papa, a 65-year-old man), his teachers could barely contain their laughter.

 As a defense, I’ve added new phrases to my vocabulary that a four-year-old can say at the park without getting side eye from the nearby parents. Nothing is stupid, it’s all silly and the dog isn’t dumb (even though he is), he’s goofy.

Some days I feel like I’m the one learning how to speak.