When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I made a little mouse during the ceramics unit in art class. He was modeled on a character in a book I had just read. No amount of Googling can help me remember the book, but that little mouse I can recall in detail. He was brown and sitting with his arms and legs stretched out, and he wore a purple sweater. On the back of the sweater, I painted TUCK in careful strokes with my paintbrush, as his full name, Tucker, was too long to fit on his small back. I see myself finishing up the letters, readying him for glazing, when the boy next to me, his name and face blurry in my memory, leaned over and snickered, “You should add another line to the T.” He laughed and whispered to his friends. The other children laughed. I, on the other hand, was confused. Why should I change my T to another letter? An F? Why? I even asked the teacher for an explanation, and I see her–now, all these years later–looking at me with an expression that I can only describe as part bemusement and part relief before changing the subject.
I was so naive! As a parent nearly 30 years later, I applaud my parents for keeping my brother and me innocent of things that weren’t age-appropriate. I grew up clueless about a lot as a result, but I guess that’s a silver lining in a world that can be overly harsh.
I thought about my Tuck story last week on my commute to work after a shiny black Prius in the middle lane decided to make a left-hand turn right in front of me, missing my car by about a foot. A strong slam on the breaks and a choice curse word (yelled loudly) got me through what was a frightening situation.
It wasn’t a fright that brought me up to speed on curses, though: it was junior high. That’s when the peer pressure to fit in is so great. I remember in eighth grade, at lunch one day, getting teased because I didn’t swear. “Say Damn,” I was encouraged. After much prodding, I did so and was met with laughter and cheers. It was fun to corrupt a friend, I guess. And, I felt cool, a bit more grown-up, for a moment.
Now, as an adult, my feelings about swearing fluctuates. On one hand, I hate it; it feels cheap and too casual. The “coolness” factor of eighth grade (thankfully) is long gone (as should probably be all of eighth grade). Using curse words or crude slang feels degrading and unprofessional (if employed in the workplace). On the other hand, when a car cuts me off or when someone does something dumb or dangerous on my commute to work, that swear word is cathartic. It transforms a situation where I have no power–and might even be a little scared–to one where I have a voice (even if I’m the only one who heard it). It becomes anger, aggression, and recrimination all in one.
But still, every Lent, I vow to give up the occasional curse word, committing to put a dollar in my kids’ piggy banks each time I let one fly–even if it’s the result of someone else’s commuting stupidity. At two dollars a pop, those curses are expensive, and yet, I don’t break the habit. Sometimes, there’s just no other way to get your point across, I have concluded. Car horns, notwithstanding.