My daughter was five-years-old when she first used the F Word. It wasn’t uttered through annoyance or frustration. She used it without any knowledge of its place in our language. It was right before bedtime, after I had closed the Laura Ingalls Wilder book we were reading. We both enjoyed our nightly reading, and the Wilder book was her first introduction to the “chapter book.” She took to it well, embracing the longer, more detailed story line. With the book resting on my stomach and our eyes gazing up at the ceiling, she was bombarding me with a mouthful of curious inquiries, all pertaining to life on the prairie. The Wilders had bears with which to contend,Indians to feed, land to till, bread to bake, and wood to split. This was not the life my daughter knew, so she was childishly fascinated by the prairie life.
After answering most of her questions, I went to rest the book on her dresser, the inherited one by the door. I then turned to her bedside and leaned in for my kiss. “Good night, Momma. I love you.” She responded with, “I love you, too, Daddy,” her voice sleepy with cuteness. “Thank you. Good night,” I said. I made for the door and reached for the light switch, grinning wildly from the overwhelming buzz that stirs in me whenever she tell me she loves me. I flicked the light to off and began to walk out. Suddenly, her voice brought me quickly back. “Daddy!” I halted at the door, my hand on the light switch as I was about to turn it back on. Into a darkened room I said, “Yes, Momma?” And out of the darkness, her five-year-old voice asked me, “Is ‘fucking baby’ a character in the book?”
I was a statue at the room’s threshold. “Wait!” “Did she just say the F Word?” “Did I hear correctly?” At this point, the hamster in my head is on fire, racing madly, trying to make sense of what I just heard, at the same time entirely doubting that what I heard was correct. “She couldn’t have said the F Word?” Nah, she didn’t say that?” “Did she?” I have to respond. She’s waiting.
I had no choice but to ask her to repeat herself. “I’m sorry, Momma. What was that?” “Is ‘fucking baby’ a character in the book?” she said. I cringed because I realize I just made my daughter say the F Word one more time, but still I’m not entirely sure she said it. Believing that I’m losing my mind, I ask her to say it again. “I’m sorry, Momma. What did you say?” The bathroom light in the hallway was providing a little light so that I could scarcely see her on the bed. She sat up a little, resting on her elbows, and she answered me once more. “Is ‘fucking baby’ a character in the book?” Again, I feel a pain inside as I almost double over.
It’s odd hearing a kindergartner swear, especially when she uses the F Word. My daughter just uttered it…not once, not twice, but three times! “No, Momma,” I say calmly. “It’s not a character in the book, and we don’t use that word, ok?” “Ok,” she says. “Good night.”
This pathetic response is all I could muster. I didn’t bother to ask her where she had heard the word. I didn’t even take a moment to explain to her its misuse and wrongness. I was scared. Experience failed me, and I left it at that. I said good night and headed for the living room where my wife was watching Dateline.
I’m anxious, but I have to control myself a little because I have to tell my wife. I closed the hallway door behind me and stood behind the recliner. She was to my right, lying on the couch. I’m standing. “I think Xaria just used the F Word.” It was ridiculous of me to say “I think” because after hearing her say it three times, there was no doubt.
My wife’s upper torso exploded into a massive sit-up that would’ve made Bruce Lee jealous. Her face was immediately engulfed in emotion. “What?” “What did she say?” “How?” The questions came fast. “I think she said the F Word,” repeating myself. “But how?” “What did she say?” she asks. I tell her.
“Well, she must’ve heard the word somewhere, maybe at school?” my wife says. “Who talks like that?” And all of sudden we’re cataloging through our own use of the F Word and the S Word and swearing in general, a past time in which we’re both thoroughly proficient. “We don’t talk like that in the house,” I said. “I’m careful about using the F Word, and I know you’re careful about it, too. She probably heard it school,” I say.
And all of a sudden I’m feeling sad. The thought kindergartners swearing on the playground sucked the good mood right out of me. Yeah, I know kids fall and hurt themselves and bleed, but I couldn’t imagine a toddler landing on the asphalt yelling, “Fuck!”
We were both left with wondering where she heard the word, wondering who had used it in her presence. The answers came a few days later.
We were in the living room. It was a Friday and the unwinding had begun. There was music playing, and my daughter was going through the moves of her self-taught dance routine, a combination of random arm flailing, jumping, head-banging, and spinning. We were the audience, two comatose parents barely alive from a long work week, strewn on the couch, my legs resting on our dog’s ass.
Then, out of nowhere, my daughter is hysterical. She’s convulsing and sobbing and breathing heavily, big kindergarten tears are running down her face. My wife, again, burst into another sit-up. “What’s wrong, honey?” she said as she pulled her in for a big, motherly hug. The dog and I jumped up, too! I knew to sit back a little because my wife is better in these situations than I am. I was thinking it was maybe Bruno Mars’ fault. Maybe “because you’re amazing just the way you are” made her sad.
After some calming down, my daughter said, “Sheila called me “fucking baby,” I recognized these words from the other night. “Oh, Momma. Come here,” my wife said. They were in a deep embrace, my wife, too, fighting tears as she asked our daughter, “When did she say this?” “We were playing on the monkey bars, and Sheila ran by me and said it to me,” our daughter explained. It was a brief explanation, but it was enough to alert us that something at school was amiss. We didn’t pry too much. My wife and I looked at one another, and I knew that she, like myself, had begun the brainstorming process that was going to get us to the bottom of this.
It turned out that Sheila was my daughter’s initial introduction to the world of bullying. Yeah, a kindergartner can be a bully, and kindergartners can be bullied. We contacted the school and filed an informal report. The school’s administration contacted Sheila’s parents. For now, it seemed, the proper protocol had been visited. We moved on.
A few days later, in the computer lab, Sheila walked past my daughter and slapped the headphones off her head and said, “I’m going to punch you in the face.” Our daughter told us about when we got home. Luckily, the supervisor had seen it go down and filed a report. But this was the second incident, and it’s hard for a parent to sit back and allow this shit to go on. Part of me wanted to say to my daughter, “The next time she gets close to you or says something to you or touches you, you need to punch her right in the face to let her know that you don’t want her bothering you.” Of course, this is the most wrong way to handle these types of situations. Instead, my wife and I gave our daughter crash courses in standing up for herself and in standing up for others. It went well. She asked a great deal of questions, and we used examples. When it was my turn, though, when we were alone, I couldn’t help saying to my daughter that she was going to have to get physical with Sheila. “What do you mean, Daddy?” she asked. “Well, if she’s pulling your hair or putting her finger in your face and you tell her to stop and she doesn’t stop, then you’re going to have to slap her hand away and tell her to stop it and tell her that you don’t want her around you and that you want her to leave you alone. You might even have to push her.” I then gave her an example. I have an old punching bag in our garage. I almost resorted to hanging it to show her the proper punching technique.
A few days later, my daughter told me that she had done what I had told her. “Oh, yeah! How’d it go? What was the situation?” I asked. “Well, she was sitting behind me in the After-school Academy, and she was poking my neck. Then I stood up and turned around and I slapped her hand away. I told her to stop. Then I told the teacher.” I was proud. “Wow, that’s great, Momma! You see, sometimes you have to do that.”
Sheila had been asked to stay away from my daughter’s vicinity, and my daughter was asked the same. Things were going well. Then there was another incident. This one took place on the playground at recess, and it went well beyond normal playground shenanigans.
My daughter and her friends were jumping rope. Sheila was present. At one point, it isn’t clear how, but Sheila and another girl had the jump rope wrapped around my daughter’s neck, and they were both pulling on it. Thankfully, there was a teacher present.
We had been foolish, perhaps, to take our foot off the pedal when it came to filing complaints. This was it, though. We began harsher proceedings. The school did their part, though a school’s way of handling things isn’t always as swift and satisfying as one would like.
In the end, expulsion was imminent for young Sheila. We didn’t want this for her. We knew Sheila had issues, and so we worried about her emotional state and about her getting help. What she had been resorting to was not normal, especially for a child. There were, naturally, reasons for her acting out in these ways, and we were aware of some of them.
The interventions with Sheila have worked. She is a model student, from what I hear, and there are no more incidents involving my daughter. In fact, my daughter tells us, “Sheila is nice to me. She wants to be my friend. She apologized to me for everything.”
My daughter, for her young age, has developed remarkable skill in handling Sheila and other kids like her. Often times she’ll relay stories to us about how she had to tell another kid to stop picking on one of her friends. Of course, these stories make us proud, and we’re content to see her stand up for herself and for others.
I’m simply glad that my wife and I resorted to teaching her about standing up for herself. We’re not model parents, but we do our best to take the best route possible. In this case, we felt that compassion, especially for a child, was the best response. We also knew that these incidents provided us with a golden opportunity to teach our child about confidence and standing up for what’s right. These are ongoing lessons, but I think my daughter got a little taste of the meanness in people. The sad thing is that I’ve seen a lot worse at the high school level. There’s meanness all around.