My Fellow Inebriates,
Miss P dropped the F-bomb at the table last night, paralyzing everyone into several seconds of silence.
Not that it should have been a surprise. Not after six years of overhearing our mother’s losing struggle to rein in blue language. With suburban predictability, however, it did surprise everyone—even four-year-old Miss V, who ceased chattering as the shockwave rocked the table.
I think most adults—even if they cuss occasionally like my parents—fancy themselves pretty much desensitized to the F word, having heard and used it in every context imaginable. But the first time your six-year-old lets it rip, the word erupts across your senses with all the force it had when you first heard it. Maybe more.
Even I, skulking beside the duty-free CAOL ILA 12, was floored.
At six years of age, there’s a reasonable probability of schoolyard exposure to the F word. She may be in Grade One, but P is presumably surrounded by budding miscreants, effing all day long for all we know. But my parents (especially the one laughing uncontrollably) would be disingenuous to claim that P’s primary exposure hadn’t occurred here, at LBHQ.
They did take some reassurance from the context. Even when our parents run their potty mouths, they don’t hurl the F word at one another. It finds its way into exclamations, rhetorical remarks to bad drivers, the odd split infinitive…it gets thrown around omnidirectionally, but it’s never used at anyone. And the way she used it last night…well…they might be able to tell themselves she learned that usage elsewhere.
My friend Scary had been sitting at the far end of the table. He isn’t ordinarily allowed there, but somehow he’d remained invisible until dessert, and he was looking as covetously at the family’s tiramisu as I was looking at Dad’s new whisky. (Okay, I was humping the bottle, but this story’s not about me.) Scary, no longer able to resist, must have sidled a bit closer to the dessert plates and looked accusingly at P. Affronted, she addressed him with chiming clarity:
“Mr. Bear, FUCK OFF.”
It was a moment of failure for our parents. They had failed (1) to shield P from the F word. They had failed (2) to instill its taboo nature. And they had failed (3) to have ready a party line on hard-core swearing from their six-year-old at the table.
Whatever united front their God-fearing neighbors might have pulled together in a situation like this, our parents could not boast one of their own. Dad went quiet (saying afterward he was just hoping the moment would pass), while Mum almost perished with convulsive laughter. Finally she managed: “You mustn’t ever, ever say that at school, okay?”
“I know,” P said, casual as could be.
And that was that.
Perhaps, deep down, my parents saw that—unlike so many bus-station loiterers spilling the F word out both sides of their mouths as verb, noun, adverb, and adjective, punctuating thoughts devoid of significance—P had delivered the F-bomb with impact. Massive impact.
And for that—even if Mum and Dad would never allow themselves to give it to her—she deserved a high-five.