Sometimes things happen, things so unexpected you’re not sure they happened at all. So you ask yourself, “What just happened?” And when you get the answer you realize what you’ve been dreading to hear all your life, you’re an idiot.
My five-year-old sat in the backseat of the car as we ran errands. Unlike car trips with my three-year-old daughter who keeps a running commentary on everything that comes to mind, like butterflies, puppies and anything to do with the color pink, car trip conversations with my son generally consist of short, guy sentences, like:
Me: Hey, son. What are you thinking?
The Boy: Nothing.
Me: You feel OK?
The Boy: Yeah.
Me: How was school today?
The Boy: I don’t want to talk about it.
Me: What do you think of the Royals chances this year?
The Boy (pointing somewhere I can’t see because I’m driving): Hey, Dad. Look, a dog’s pooping.
But today was different. Sure, the sentences were still short, to the point, and conveyed as little information as possible, but he said something I’d never heard from him before.
“Hey, Dad,” the Boy said. “Look at that damn house.”
The words left his mouth normally, vibrated through my ears and bounced around the inside of my head for a while as they usually do, but this time none of them stuck.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“Look at that damn house,” he said again. “It looks like it’s going to fall down.”
Then he laughed, as he should have. Houses falling down are funny.
Damn. That was it. My five-year-old, who loves Legos, is nice to pets, and laughs at SpongeBob Squarepants, said “damn.”
There are many moments in a parent’s life – and by many moments I mean every single one of them – when the parent has no idea what to do. The Boy said a word that would not go over well in any school, pre-school, Sunday school, obedience school – anywhere.
There are two ways Americans handle things, 1) ignore the problem and it will go away, or 2) fix the problem. No. 1 would have been easier, but my wife would have frowned upon that tactic.
“You know, that’s really not a very nice word,” I said.
“Fall down?” he asked. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw his little face trying to make sense of that bit of wisdom.
“No,” I said. “The other one. Damn.”
Getting closer to his usual in-the-car sentence structure, he said, “Oh.”
“How about we don’t say that word anymore, OK?” I asked. He nodded, and everything was good in Guyland.
But I had to wonder what other words were in his head, just waiting for a time – like the church Christmas program – to come out. I was a bit worried, not for him, for me. I didn’t have to ask where he heard that word. I knew.
Copyright 2010 by Jason Offutt
Jason Offutt teaches journalism at NWMSU. His latest book, “What Lurks Beyond: The Paranormal in Your Backyard,” is available at amazon.com.