Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On cursing. Or not.

I used to teach pre-kindergarten. Back when I had no kids myself, so was a little out of the mommy loop.

One day early in my pre-k teacher career I sat on my "tuffet" - a very big pillow, Pier One circa 1988, formerly living in Kinsolving Dorm and now living in my children's playroom covered in gingham - and from said tuffet I pronounced something, whoknowswhat, to be stupid.

Have you ever heard the sound of twelve little children gasping in unison? I hadn't either. It's rather deafening. From their colorful carpet they inhaled a good bit of the atmosphere and stared at me, Beloved Teacher, with very wide eyes of horror. As though I had just pronounced Elmo a Communist. Well he is red, ya know.

I looked to my assistant, very confused. What'd I do?? She said, "Well. They think stupid is a bad word."

Oh. Really? She nodded. Slightly disapprovingly, she nodded. Evidently she thought so too.

Later I asked my friend Shelly, who was a mommy. Oh yes, she said. Stupid is now a cuss word.

"Well," I replied. "That's just stupid."

But thenceforth I refrained from such foul language in the classroom.

Several years later, I had some babies. And those babies began to talk. And they went to school and learned some new words.

And I got it.

Stupid is a word that sounds so ugly hurled from the mouth of a cherubic five year old at an equally cherubic three year old. Especially in a context say, such as this:


Then the word Stupid causes my eyeballs to bulge and my heart to speed up and I gasp as loudly as twelve four year olds.

But Stupid is also a beautiful word. Other words just don't suffice for how I feel when I am talking on my cell phone and take the wrong freeway. Stupid. Or the Flight of the Conchords songs that make me laugh the most. So Stupid. Or the antics of Michael Scott. So, so Stupid!

Really, there is just no other synonym that works as well in these and other situations. Believe me I've looked for one.

There is power in Stupid. It even feels good to say. Stupid. "It's just so stupid." A sweet and simple catharsis contained within six letters.

Stupid is also a word used very frequently on the radio, from NPR to Focus on the Family. And on TV. And in Disney movies. And in a lot of books. And by grandparents and other admired, kidless adults. And this other book called the Holy Bible.

So, I have been very torn. On the one hand, I have drunk the Mommy KoolAid that deigned Stupid to the butt, crap and hell category. (Butt is another one that is becoming so accepted, Shep learned it from a teacher - but I just cringe when I hear little ones use that word.)

On the other hand, I think the censorship of Stupid is stupid. I've grown weary of excusing news commentators to my children. I have wondered if my drawing attention to it is only inclining them to use it more.

And I miss Stupid. I've been at an utter loss to describe some things, like, the Ft. Knox packaging of new toys, or our cordless phone that only holds a charge for an hour.

Today I read this post by Scribbit, which greatly helped me to clarify:

It is not okay to call someone stupid.

In the same way that it is not okay to call any names. That's it. That's the rule in this house. No. Name calling. No hateful words. Words are for healing, not hurting. Our home should be the one place in the world where we feel loved; name calling absolutely will not be tolerated. You will not call my child an ugly name. Come here. Stick out your tongue, it obviously needs a bath. Well, I hope you remember that next time. I love you, I forgive you. Now go apologize to and say three nice things about your sister.

However, as far as objects and situations and SNL skits go, stupid is as innocuous an adjective as any other.

So there you have it. Stupid is back.
With boundaries.

And oh, I've missed it so much, it's just stupid.


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