I saw something today, and it reminded me of when my son (he would have been twenty three now) was just a little guy, at that stage where he had finally started speaking clearly. They are really cute then, and it’s probably a good thing they are so cute, because they do have a knack of repeating things…that don’t leave their parents in a very good light.
I remember that day so clearly still. It was fall, and cold already–we were living in Minnesota that year. It was late afternoon, and I hurried to the grocery store with him in tow. Even though he was rather large for a three year old, I wanted him in the shopping cart. It meant that he would be at least slowed down on the amazing faster-than-light speed with which he could disappear. I just had a few things to pick up, and it was mid-week. It was also senior citizen day at the grocery store.
The day before, a little warmer and sunnier, I had played basketball on the pavement with the neighborhood kids and my own kids. Unfortunately, when scooping up the ball, I had ripped a fingernail backwards, tearing it away from the nail bed. Anyone who has ever done that knows, it is a blinding pain, certain to provoke the most saintly of people to a swearing fit. In my case, because of my son’s habit of repeating everything, I had replaced all of my good swear words with the innocuous phrase of “nasty words.” It worked to express myself without having to worry about him repeating it.
Or so I thought.
There we are at the grocery store, my deceptively angelic looking three year old sitting in the seat, smiling at each and every old lady in the store. It was his bait to get them to come nearer…and they did. And then he would drop the bombshell in that voice that toddlers have that carries for ten city blocks despite traffic and pouring rain.
“My mama says nasty words!”
My cheeks flamed, but the humiliation would continue, because nothing I said could put a stop to his game. He told every single little old lady in the store that his mama said nasty words, leaving out the rest of the story and without explaining that it was literally the phrase “nasty words.” Nothing I said could tame the scandalized looks I received, and I may as well as had a scarlet “nasty word sayer” embroidered on my shirt. I hurried through the check out, while he informed the bag boy, the clerk, the women in the line behind me, and the store manager that his mama said nasty words. There wasn’t a sympathetic glint in an eye anywhere, I was a bad mother who said nasty words where her toddler heard.
Like I said, it’s a real good thing that kids that age are very, very cute and we’re really attached to them. I was mortified, and trying to explain only made the situation worse. There was no quick escape, and the floor refused to open up and swallow me either.
But you know what?
Time does change your perspective on things. Twenty years later, it’s a funny memory. I can still hear his voice as he announced, over and over, “My mama says nasty words.” He was so proud of his announcement, and utterly unaware of what they thought he was saying.