There's a new Bad Word in town, and it's taking the population of my house by storm.
The exciting part about it is, I didn't even know it was a bad word. We had been using it for years with no ill effects. Strangers didn't gasp when we said it in public, and family members even nodded approvingly when they heard it. My kids certainly didn't recoil in shock at its application; they didn't like it, but they'd been hearing it their whole lives and had built up a tolerance to it.
But then, a few weeks ago, we gained two new housemates, and the little one, the one the Internet knows as X, brought with her a firmly entrenched belief about this word. This word, the one we used all the time, was bad. It was wrong. It offended her down to her very core.
What is it? you ask. What could possibly be so horrifying in the mind of a three-year-old?
I'll tell you, but be prepared. You might not have realized that this was a Bad Word, yourself. It may be a shock. I'm pretty sure it's safe for work, but you might want to whisper it the first time, instead of immediately saying it out loud.
Are you ready? The word is...
[Insert horror-movie music here.]
Can you imagine? We have the audacity to use this dirty word, and on a regular basis.
And X's delicate sensitivities are offended by simply being in the presence of the word, even if it's not directed at her. Activation of a "no" can trigger whining, ignoring, and even tantrums, all apparently without conscious volition on her part. Just like how Pavlov's dogs didn't intend to salivate at the sound of the dinner bell, I don't think X wants to burst into whine at that initial "nnn-" sound. She just can't help it.
All kidding aside, I understand why the "N" word hasn't been in heavy circulation in L's vocabulary lately. Her whole world has turned up-side-down in the past few months, and I'm frankly in awe that she's able to wake up and get out of bed in the morning. Who ever wakes up one morning and thinks, I want to be a stereotype today? I want to experience Battered Women's Syndrome. I want to have a graduate-level education, supportive friends, hopeful plans, and yet end up in a situation that involves bruises and lies and threats. Yeah, nobody.
It's hard enough to risk a toddler meltdown under normal circumstances, and her circumstances are anything but normal. That toddler is the only consistently loving presence in her world lately, so I don't blame her one little bit for going easy on things like manners and respect over the past few months.
And I feel like one of the best things we can do, for them both, is to continue with our own boundaries and rules here, to let X start in with a vicarious experiencing of the concept of "No" - and even the occasional direct impact, as circumstances dictate.
In time, I think, she'll develop her own tolerance to it. Until then, every time I say it, I feel a little bit like I'm spouting off profanities in church. Which is kind of fun, really.
Kate posts far too often at One More Thing.