As a parent, there are times when I stop and think, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ Tonight was one of those times.
After a great day when I spent every waking minute in the company of our two daughters, they were putting on their pajamas and getting ready for bed when our oldest daughter Agatha (10) called my name and said something that sounded like an expletive that rhymes with the word ‘wussy.’ I’ve lost most of my hearing in one ear, so instead of rushing into their room assuming I heard what I thought I heard, I walked in. Slowly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. What did you say, darlin?” I asked, smiling and trying not to sound alarmed.
Without hesitation, she looked me square in the eyes and said, “Am I a pussy, Daddy?”
I gulped, but kept smiling. Then I said, “I’m not sure. I don’t really know what that word means.” Stroke of genius, Jim. Deer. In. Headlights. “What’s the word again?“
“Pussy.” She said flatly, but with a small grin. Great. She sensed my awkwardness. Either that, or she was punking me. Either way, she had no idea what she was saying. My stunned silence caused Cozette (7) to turn and look at me like a grinning cat too. They knew something was up. Something big.
“Well, what do you think that word means?” I asked her.
“A girly girl.” she said.
Agatha’s a soccer player. A good one. And one tough competitor. But she is something of a pussy when it comes to certain things. She’s the type of kid who will milk the smallest injury for everything it’s worth, whereas Cozette could break her arm and continue plowing on with whatever task was at hand.
“Cozette said I was a pussy.” she continued.
What could I say? In that context, the word actually does mean what she thinks it means. But I didn’t have a quick answer. They were both smiling now. I half expected them to break out in a song starring the word pussy in the main chorus.
“Well, you shouldn’t use that word.” I said. Frustration mounting.
“But I thought you said you never heard of it before.” my clever oldest daughter added.
“I didn’t really hear it. I thought you said something else. You should’t use it. It’s a bad word.”
Now here’s the thing, our kids don’t curse. Whenever they say, “Oh my God” they are quick to add “sh” to make the word “gosh.” And even though they’ve no doubt heard me drop the f-bomb (not to them) in their lifetimes, I’m pretty sure I’ve never said ‘pussy.’ Ever.
“How is it a bad word, Daddy?” Agatha asked.
“And why is it a bad word, Daddy?” Cozette chimed in.
Again, I didn’t have a quick answer. I felt like Custer at Little Big Horn. So I did what any responsible parent would do and blew it off. “It just is. And you shouldn’t use it again.”
Agatha thought about this for a few seconds. I thought I was home free. But then she added, “Is it as bad as Stupid?”
“Yes. Yes it is.” I said, relieved. “In fact, it’s worse. If you say that word, you’ll be in really big trouble. So just don’t ever do it. Ok?”
“But why, Daddy?” Cozette pressed.
“Because I said so.” I snapped. I couldn’t believe it.
I then turned, and walked out of their room. Stunned, shocked and more than a little embarrassed for the first time in my parenting career. Yet, I couldn’t help but laugh a little. To myself, of course. So that they wouldn’t suspect anything.
6 CommentsLEAVE A COMMENT
Mar 13, 2011
I feel like I’m preaching again, but here goes [damn you, Jim (oops, I’m cursing): your posts move me!]: I wonder if you had a teachable moment here. The term “pussy” is generally hurled about by males towards other males (and now females to females) to indicate a lack of athletic and/or male prowess and stamina: in other words, it indicates less than masculine or “capable,” behavior. To my mind, it is a misogynist term (we can all agree that the term “pussy” is female related, right?). Now, I don’t get all worked up about the use of that word in the real world, but I’d like to think (caveat: I am not a parent) that this situation may have been an opportunity to educate our young ladies on the use of the word and its intention based on the perception that to have “feminine” attributes and characteristics is oft perceived in our society as demeaning and detrimental. To be “soft” in sports is to be feminine and therefore makes one a “pussy;” aka less valuable, less capable, and less accomplished. Why is this? What can we do to combat this perception? Or is is accurate? What about all of the other gender (or race, or cultural, etc.) specific epithets we throw around (not that YOU want to throw them around with your daughters): what do they mean and where do they come from? I wholly respect your awkwardness in the above situation and once again LOVE the post and the issues you raised, but I just wanted to throw in my off-the-cuff reaction to your brave, naked, thought-provoking writing.
Mar 13, 2011
Hi Jim, Ok – so this is three for me with you so now you have to know this. I found you through @chrisbrogan’s RT for your piece on Charlie Sheen. It provoked me to go back and listen to my favorite TEDTalk with Elizabeth Gilbert – I was delighted even more after all this time, especially with the backdrop of Sheen. Next, this week, I’m walking out of Harris Teeter and immediately call my daughter to run out and look at the sky – I told her I couldn’t explain what was happening – just go look. I see your tweet a few minutes later on my mobile – and I see you are in Charlotte and you are looking at the same sky – and tweeting about it. Now this – I have an 11 yr. old and we just had this – pussy – conversation yesterday. I handled it similar to you – wish I could be more like they write it in the movies during these moments – but it just didn’t come for me. So, I am a new fan of you and I seem to be tracking with you – pretty tight! Keep it coming! Marilyn @LoveFearPaychek
Mar 13, 2011
Jim that’s always a tough one when it comes to trying to explain expletives, especially when it comes to the younger children. I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with that issue with my two older kids – probably because I’ve worked the night shift like forever. I’m sure my wife had do deal from time to time. I’m the type of person that tries wholeheartedly not to swear in front of my kids, I’ve learned to use corny alternatives such as “Cheese and Crackers” instead of “Jesus Christ” and I have a few other silly ones. My wife is the one that drops the “F-bomb” in the house and “Shit” more often than required. My point is even though we keep the swearing to a minimum there is wealth of alternative resources for kids to pick this stuff up. Kids hurl these insults at each-other even without knowing what they mean, probably picking it up from older siblings, parents (including Gran’s) and peers who use the language quite frequently to punctuate arguments and salt the wounds being inflicted.As it often goes with intelligent children, they absorb language at a dizzying pace – their little computer minds grasp the context of certain words because of the verbal cues and intonation. Its part of survival when we learn word that have a “bite” or punch – or groin-kick effect. These phrases or single words cut to the chase and slash our opponents down to size or issue the challenge: “What are you going to do about it?” in compact form. Children who learn the new alternative meanings to words are going to get their info from the highest source usually – I’m sure that since you are their greatest source of advice and knowledge they came at you with the same innocence and forward curiosity that they normally do when the question had been burning them all day – and sucker punched you in the cojones. The seed of mischief had already been sown in their fertile minds – they get it and found out a certain weakening effect that the word can have – and sap the power of even on a respected adult such as yourself. I can’t say that turning it back on them and giving them the proper full-blown slang dictionary versions of the word for shock value would have worked to deter them from future usage – just know that they are growing up quickly and the fuse has been lit albeit unintentionally.I recently had to go literally “ape-shit” on my 18 year old daughter during her winter break from college. She was pushing buttons on my patience all day long – my extra long fuse was gone and I unleashed a stream of Fucking-Shit, Goddammit cause I had enough. It worked like a charm to stop the damn foolishness and I regained the respect and peace I needed that day – she sequestered herself to the room for a good cry since I had never pulled that card with her.My little one who is about a year and a half behind your youngest still is in slightly innocent-mode. I can’t say that I am looking forward to having to explain any bad words to her – slang or otherwise. But I know it’s coming.Get ready for the F-bombs to explode when they argue about the “boyfriend” or “that’s my shirt” issue. Cheers!
Mar 13, 2011
Mar 13, 2011
LOL, great post! Classic Mitchem! Brings back memories of me asking what the *F* word meant at the family dinner table. Now that was conversation-stopping. 🙂 Truth is, I really didn’t know, but had heard kids using the word at school. My father almost had a heart attack.Fair warning: as your girls get older, these uncomfortable conversations will be coming up more and more frequently. My advice is to keep the lines of communication open and be willing to discuss even the most delicate of subjects. Let kids know when they cross the line (even unintentionally), but also let them know why.
Mar 14, 2011
thanks for the words, everybody. /sigh/ yep.
My novel – Minor King
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