Friday, June 19, 2009

Into the Mouths of Babes

So Jake comes running into the house: “Mom, Andrew won’t quit saying the N- word!”

Darn. This uber-cute little boy has been testing the waters with some new vocabulary the past couple of weeks. When this happened before, he smilingly said several variations of the A-word in front of me. He wasn’t angry, or malicious, he was just trying to get a reaction. After I told him to stop, I ratted him out to the folks.

Unfortunately, I was in a hurry to get to Costco, so I sent his older sibling as my tattletale emissary. By the time the message and stories got relayed, it was a big game of he-said, she-said and it bit me in the butt big-time as it made it look like my kids had instigated the whole situation.

I knew what I saw and heard, but I decided not to press the issue, knowing full-well that many times my own family is at fault in these situations, so why push it? If I had just kept my mouth shut in the first place, and let the kids do their thing, nothing would have happened. Kids have a way of working these things out on their own.

These family members are some of our dearest friends, so after the slight AWKWARD-ness that ensued, I decided that the whole “it takes a village” thing was a load of bunk, and I’d stay out of other people’s business from here on out.

But the N-word? Oh my goodness. I’m 39 years old and I’ve never uttered that word. I even managed to teach, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huck Finn” without saying it. I had a hard time believing that word would be bandied about in my friends’ house, EVER, let alone for a kindergartner’s ears to hear. I decided there must be more to this story.

The Lowdown:

Me: "Jake, tell me everything that happened."

Jake: "Well, Andrew came up to me and bragged, I know the “F-word,” I know the “S-word!” I told him they were very bad words and he should never say them."

Me: "Okay. Jake, do you know that sometimes very little kids THINK they know bad words, but they don’t. Like they could think the F-word is “fish?” Little Andrew probably didn’t even know those words, he was just trying to get a reaction from you."

Jake: "What? Oh."

Me: "Well, what happened next?"

Jake: "Andrew said that the “F-word” was the worst curse word ever."

Me: "True. Most people do. Then what happened?"

Jake: "Well, I said that my mom said there’s a worse word. The N-word."

(Whoa. You see, without uttering the word out-loud I had used last November’s election as a time to teach the kids about our country’s legacy of racism. In the course of my history lesson, I had shared with Jake, by spelling it, this despicable word I knew he would encounter at some point through books or the media. Oh, my. Where was this conversation going?)

Me: "Okaaaaay, then what happened?"

Jake: "Andrew wanted to know if he knew the N-word but I wouldn’t tell him what it was. Then he said how would he know if he already knew it if I wouldn’t tell him? Then he said what if he said the N-word accidentally and didn’t even know he was saying it, and could I just give him a little hint?"

Me: (getting panicky) "Jake, did you give him a hint?"

Jake: "Well, I just said it rhymed with a character from Winnie the Pooh." (N-eeyore? Nabbit? There aren’t too many choices here)

"And then Pete (other kid they were playing with) guessed it right away. Then Andrew said it once and wouldn’t quit saying it. So I came home to tell you."

Me: (getting screechy) "Jake, are you telling me you just taught little Andrew the N-word?"

Jake: "No, Mom! Never! …………………….I mean, I guess maybe I did, but I didn't mean to."

Jake cried, I cried.

Haven't heard about it from our friends yet. Know any good realtors in the area?

Our work here is done.


Kate Coveny Hood said...

Oh no! I learned in my 20s that it's best not to stick your nose in other people's business no matter how good your intentions... I still cringe at the thought of a VERY embarrassing e-mail I wrote...

So I appreciate the reminder that this would be the best policy when it comes to other people's kids too.

Poor Jake. Poor you.

Christy said...

Oh my goodness. I feel so bad for you...any chance you could just call up the mom and tell her exactly what Jake told you?!

I had a similar experience in high school (yes, I was a prude) with a word that means a part of a man's anatomy. I had NEVER heard it before, and I was dared to say it in front of a teacher -- so of course I did. Oh the embarrassment when she had to explain to me what it was. I thought it was a fake word.

Hope this passes quickly...

Katherine said...

Oh Anna, I feel for you! Not good. But ANYONE who knows you would absolutely know that is not a word that is used at your home.

L said...

There is a lovely brick house for sale hear here. I will have to send you a link.

Are you staying inside with the shades drawn? So sorry!!!

L said...

...that would be NEAR here...

Pseudo said...

You are right. This did make me feel better.