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Language Barrier


“Are you playing with that fucking cup again?” I asked my nine month old son as he sat on the other side of the curtain atop the brown fuzzy rug on my bathroom floor pushing around said plastic Bears cup. I wasn’t expecting an answer. I knew the answer. I suppose I was talking to my son, but it was more like I was just asking myself. I long for the days when he can respond. I long for the days when he will understand more words than my dog. I long for the days when I won’t be talking to myself. Before I know it those days will be here so I might want to think about cutting back on my usage of one of my favorite alternative adjectives. Maybe.

As I ran my fingers through my wet beard and admired my soapy calves in the shower, I was struck with the sudden realization that I might have to stop using “the ‘F’ word” in the near future. When you talk to yourself most of the day, as I do, you start to listen to yourself differently. I’ve begun to dissect the random words and phrases that flow out of my mouth. I’m not quite there, but I can feel that I’m very slowly starting to second guess my choice of words. It’s very weird, and it’s something that I never really thought about before Jack started to become more than just an eating, breathing, shitting version of a Cabbage Patch Doll.

Like the dad in A Christmas Story, I work in profanity “the way other artists might work in oils or clay.” In my writing, I try to use it appropriately and never gratuitously, but talking around the house or with friends, there is often no rhyme or reason to my use of swear words, especially the big one. The mouths of sailors, truckers, and whores are no match for mine. I relish the use of blue language. I use it for emphasis. I use it for humor. I use it to break up monotony. I use it poetically. However, I can also use “bad” language just as mindlessly and frivolously as I can use it intelligently or artistically.

Throughout the day, I’ll make up songs consisting of nothing but repeated cuss words or I’ll substitute swear words while singing along to actual songs on the radio. I’m somewhere between a third grader looking for attention and a drunk rugby player. I find it astounding that in over a decade on the radio, I never slipped up once. Maybe that’s why? Maybe my subconscious self has built up a need to use un-FCC friendly words because of all of those hours spent on-air not using them? Or maybe I’ve just been living with my self proclaimed “potty mouth” wife for too long? She’s Dr. Frankenstein, I’m the now uncontrollable blue monster.

I’m kind of torn about the prospect of having to clean up my language around the house. I could care less if my child uses foul language as long as he uses it correctly, and not in public, until he can identify the proper context. He can swear at me all day. I would enjoy it. I would laugh at it. I would feel proud. But I get it. There are a lot of people who just can’t handle it. Words make them freak out. Words. The only thing that I ever get offended by is stupidity, so it’s just so odd to me. I guess part of the problem is that it’s a generational thing. The “F-word” barely even elicits an “R” rating these days, yet I’ve had grown men twice my age tell me that they find my language a little rough sometimes after reading something I’ve written. Some of these men have been in the military. War is heck, I suppose.

“Maybe if you cleaned up your language, you could get published in Parenting magazine,” my Mom said to me the other day as if I could just point them to my website and they’d hand me a check, “your Aunt and I both agree on that.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be in fucking Parenting magazine,” I responded, laughing at my own response, her ignorance of the trials and tribulations of the publishing world, as well as the absurdity that words can be such a big issue. But, for the sake of not having to deal with the repercussions of my son asking his Grammy Pat for “some fucking cheerios” at age 2, I may start to self-edit for a while. I can already tell that he’s starting to grasp the idea of the English language with that big head of his, but luckily I’ve still got some time. So far, it is only the idea that he’s grasping, not any actual words.

“Apparently Ainsley is starting to say actual words,” my wife told me a few months back. Our friend’s daughter is younger than Jack, and a few months back is about half a lifetime for these kids. I didn’t believe that she was talking then, and I don’t believe it now.

“No fucking way,” I answered.

“Well, that’s what Dan says. She’s saying ‘mama,’ ‘dada,’ and stuff,” she responded as she heated up some tortillas on the stove.

“I don’t doubt that she’s making noise, but there’s no way she understands what she’s saying,” I said. I still stand by that. No offense intended.

Around the time of that conversation Jack had started to make noise more purposefully too. For weeks after that we’d both listen closely and hear things that we wanted to hear. I think a lot of parents are so eager to get past the parent-baby language barrier that they will do almost anything. Some order crap off of infomercials and treat their child like Chinese Olympic prodigies, some read Sondra Boynton books day and night until both parent and child lose their mind. Most just start hearing things: you want your baby to talk so badly sometimes that any little semblance of speech when it does happen, gets blown immensely out of proportion. That was obviously what was happening in our friends’ household. It would happen in mine as well, until I caught on to the little linguistic charade.

Jack started with the “ma ma ma” and “da da da” sounding noises, and we thought he was on to something too. Hell, coincidences can mess with the mind. Everyone knows that Pink Floyd didn’t really write The Dark Side of the Moon to match up with The Wizard of Oz, but it doesn’t stop people from watching while listening to it and believing it was so. Sometimes the beginning of “Money” corresponds with Dorothy’s grand entrance in Munchkin Land, sometimes your kid says “ma ma” when your wife walks in the room.

Eventually, however, he started to say “ma ma” to me. He started to say it to his stuffed sheep. He started to say it to the dog. He was saying it as indiscriminately as he would say “ga ga” or “na na,” “la la” or “ca ca.” As excited as we were that he may be speaking to us in some rational minded way, I knew the truth. He was not saying his version of “mother.” He was still just making noise.

“I think when he says ‘ma ma ma’ he wants a bottle,” my wife said to me the other day. Exactly. Where’s that damn Rosetta Stone when you need it?

So basically, I really don’t know if we’re getting anywhere with this whole English thing. As we wait, however, he has become quite fluent in duck. He takes a bath in a baby bathtub that’s shaped like a large rubber ducky and it quacks. My wife was in the habit of mimicking the quacking while she soaped him up with Johnsons’ baby shampoo and wiped away his thigh fudge during his weekly bath. Soon, Jack started to mimic the quacking outside of the bathtub. As I was changing his diaper yesterday, Jack started to quack. He floundered around naked on the changing table quack-quack-quacking away with a huge smile on his face. It’s quite endearing. I love it. I quacked back. He quacked again in return. We were finally communicating…in duck. I may not be sure if he’s saying what he means to say when he does make a noise other than quacking, but I can be sure that when we’re both quacking we’re on the same wavelength. I’ve got a regular Dr. Fucking Doolittle on my hands. It’s something.

It’s obvious that my kid likes to make noise. Is he talking? When will he start talking? Do I even really want him to start talking? If he’s anything like my kid brother or Kevin McAllister, he may never shut up. Then where does that leave me? Hell if I know the answer to those questions. His prowess in communicating with us has yet to advance beyond caveman grunt status and quacking noises, but the things he says that almost sound like words are starting to make me believe that my little baby duck will get beyond the language barrier sooner rather than later. Until then, we’ve made a deal: I’ll try to cut down on the swearing, if he starts to use this fucking sign language we’ve been trying to teach him. It’s bad enough talking to yourself, but signing to yourself? I’d rather keep quacking.

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3 responses to “Language Barrier

  1. Anonymous ⋅

    Grammy Pat better never hear him ask for F-ing cheerios or I will F-ing get all over his “dada!”

  2. Bruce Sullivan ⋅

    Fucking A man. What are you trying to say about drunk rugby players? Is something wrong with that? WTF?

  3. Pingback: The “F” Word | Omaha Dad

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