A few nights ago I had the rare chance to spend an evening alone with my daughter. My wife was at a meeting and my son was in bed, so Ruby and I got to pull out the superhero toys and fight some battles. As we were setting everyone up, she asked me when she could start watching the superhero movies, since she loves the characters so much. I thought about it and told her that she was not quite old enough yet, because they are all rated PG-13, and have some scary stuff in them.
“You were kind of scared of Ernest Scared Stupid, so why don’t we try to get through all the PG movies first before we dive into the PG-13s” I told her.
“But Ernest is a scary movie!” she insisted. “Super hero movies aren’t scary, they are more actiony!” Says the girl who has never seen a superhero movie before, but I will concede the point.
“Movies are rated PG-13 for different things. Some are scary, some are very violent, some have bad words in them…”
“Bad words?” Uh oh. Her ears perked up.
“Yeah, bad words. Swear words.” Puzzled face. “Do you know what a swear word is?” She shook her head. Ah ha! The perfect parenting moment that we all wait for, in which I may impart some small wisdom about the world to my eager child! “Swear words are just words that we don’t say very much, because they are not really polite.”
“My friend at school told me a bad word.”
“Yes. But he didn’t actually say it, because he said if he said it then he would have to go to the principal’s office. So he just spelled it.”
“I see. And what word did he spell?”
“Well, there is a ‘T’ in there. Your friend does not know how to spell that word.” This was going to be great. I am way better at swearing than her 2nd grade friends. Finally, something I am good at to teach her! “But that is a bad word. It is a swear word, or a curse word. Do you know what a curse is?”
“Liiiiike, when Regina cursed the Enchanted Forest and made Storybrooke?”
“Um, no, not a magical kind of curse. A curse is the opposite of a blessing. It is when you wish bad things for people. So if I like you, I might wish you good health and happiness, and that is a blessing. And if I was really angry with you, I might say that I hope you get sick and die. And that is a curse. A really terrible thing you say to someone. A very mean thing. And even worse than someone dying is that their soul would suffer even after they die, so the worst thing you could tell someone was to go to a place that is the opposite of heaven. Do you know what word I am talking about?”
She is half nodding, half shaking her head, so I am unsure. I just decide to say it anyway. “Hell.”
“That’s what I thought you were going to say, but I didn’t want to say it, because it is a bad word.”
“I see. Well, words are just words. They only have the power that we give to them. Different languages have different words for the same thing, and it is the thing, or the intention of our words that has the true power. So I can say ‘hell’ and it doesn’t mean anything except what I want it to mean. I am not telling someone to go to hell, or sometimes people say ‘what the hell?’ and so hell is just a word that we think is less polite.”
“Could you please stop saying that bad word? It’s really creeping me out.”
“Ah, yes, okay. Well, anyway, when you wish a bad thing on someone’s soul, it is also called ‘damning’ them, like “I damn your soul to…” well, that word you don’t want me to say. So ‘damn’ is another really mean word that you should not say in school.”
“Okay.” This seems to be sinking in and going well. She is learning something. Excellent.
“So that word your friend told you about, is really spelled ‘B-I-T-C-H, and it means a female dog. Bitch is a real word, but calling someone a dog is very insulting, so this is a really bad thing to say to someone. And also insulting someone’s mother is very bad, because people really love their mothers, so saying that someone is a son of one of those things is even worse than calling them that thing. And if you want to talk about these words without saying them, sometimes people say ‘The ‘B’ word,’ or ‘The ‘H’ word…”
“My best friend has a word at her house…the ‘J’ word!” Ruby whispers to me, as if she will get in trouble for even mentioning this dirty word.
“The ‘J’ word?”
“Yeah. The ‘J’ word.”
“Ummmmm, what is the ‘J’ word?”
Ruby looks around nervously and giggles the word to me. “…jerk.”
“Oh. Yes. Ummmmm, that is a not nice thing to say either. You should not call people a jerk.”
“But I can jerk a rope back and forth, so sometimes words are good and bad.”
“Exactly! Words mean what we mean them to mean! Like I can say ‘Ruby has socks on,’ and it is a normal thing. Or I can say “Ruby has soooocks on, Ruby has sooooocks on!” in a mean way. It’s not a mean thing to say, but you could tell I was being mean the second time, just from how I said it, right? So swear words are sometimes like that too.”
“I think that even really good people might have used a bad word one time in their lives.”
“Yes, that is probably true. And saying a bad word is not the worst thing you can do. Just, don’t say them at school ever or you will get in trouble, okay?”
“Okay.” And then we continued to play superheroes on the floor, using only nice words to fight Dr. Doom and M.O.D.O.K, and I let her stay up an extra half hour, waiting for any more chances to connect that I didn’t want to miss.