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Their mouths are as sweet as all of the candy we ever let them eat and forever teetering on the cusp of gap-toothed smiles. Despite the screams, the tantrums, the assorted words of spite and hate that they may have spewed, theirs are lips pursed tightly around the notion of innocence.
No lack of dental hygiene can change that. No late night excursions, regardless of their resemblance to an exorcism, can take away the goodness that flows from there. These are the mouths of babes that everyone is always going on about. These are the lips we kiss goodnight.
And then there are the things we can't unsee, or, in this case, unhear. The words that float around them so comfortably—from TV, movies, video games, friends and even in our homes— slowly take their toll. Kids hear everything and, when we least expect it, they release the proverbial Kraken. We can only stand there in shades of embarrassment or horror and glory in its context.
I'm not one to be offended by language, with the possible exception of misused grammar, and I do not believe in the badness of words. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule—some words serve no master but hate, and they do little for anyone but cause scars and create damage.
Those aside, I am a fan of the occasional dump truck wandering loose in casual conversation. In fact, I am much more weary of people who use the assorted goshes, darns and freakin' G-rated euphemisms of polite badassery than those that put the "dirty" words out there (note, this does not include Fantastic Mr. Fox, because that was cussing clever). Still, cursing is a grownup's game, and such things never sound right from children. Don't believe me? When's the last time you watched "The Goonies"? They might never say die, but they say all kinds of other stuff that will turn your child's milestone fieldtrip down memory lane into sporadic grabs for the remote and 114 solid minutes of loud, fake coughs and uncontrollable winces.
So it was that I received a message from a friend. His son had just said "fudge," but to paraphrase the classic holiday movie "A Christmas Story": He didn't say "fudge." He said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word!
You know the one.
It was just a word, and then the subsequent talks that follow.
My friend was admittedly shocked. He wasn't angry, per se, but he wasn't exactly thrilled either. It was something akin to so many other moments, countless steps forward and the innocence lost. But what lingered wasn't the adorable ignorance of meeting great unknowns—rather, it was an echo of childhood slightly less soft and growing somewhat harder on the edges. It was the fear of perception and a world that loves nothing more than to pass judgment for us.
Yet, it was just a word, used well if we are being honest, straight from a little boy's mouth, his face instantly absorbing the blunt of his shame while simultaneously glowing in the excitement that danced around it. It was just a word, and then the subsequent talks that follow.
I spoke with my friend again after a bit of time had passed. He said the conversation with his son had been light and fairly easy. We cracked a little wise as adults are prone to do when the kids are asleep and hindsight has the need to be up for hours.
We talked about the what-ifs of other shoes and the perspective of real problems in a world that is far too full of them.
He said they found sweetness in the silence that slowly followed, and all their lessons learned.
He said the day faded like it always does, with brushed teeth and a bedtime story, and a little boy who kissed his mother with that mouth like he always did. And then he kissed his father, too, because that what daddies do. The pillow may have felt somewhat heavier and the pajamas a bit more snug, but those are tricks of the mind and open to interpretation.