Monday, March 20, 2006

Earthy Vernacular

The boys are playing with the playdough. We've finally made another batch, and they thoroughly enjoy its bright yellow creamy softness. They are busily playing away at the dining room table as I sit on the couch writing to you, and the murmur of their chatter flows around my concentration. It's a nice sound, punctuated by frequent giggles. Gradually, though, I realise that I'm hearing the same rhythmic pulse over and over again. They have been playing a lot with rhythm these days. Stories that have a pulse, chants, poetry - they revel in them. Recently we've been reading Hippos Go Berserk, much to everyone's glee. So, the boys are chanting as they play. How delightful. My attention caught, my ears belatedly comprehend: "Put your playdough up your aaaaass!" Followed by lovely melodious little-boy giggles. Hmmm...Well, it's rhythmic! And it's risque. You can see the appeal. However, it is my job to civilise them, and this is unquestionably vulgar. They've already had a nice, satisfactory wallow in toddler naughtiness, but the forces of propriety and order, namely, me, are about to assert themselves once more. The problem is, you give this stuff attention, you reward it. I'm not shocked, but I don't want to encourage it. The solution? Be oblique. Indirect often works best in this situation. "What was that, guys? I didn't quite hear you?" Oh, so casual. I keep my gaze on my laptop as I speak, look up only as I finish the question. No piercing glances from me. Because I haven't heard anything untoward, oh, no. "Oh," says George, generally the quickest on his mental feet in such chancey situations, "I was just talkin' to Darcy and Arthur." The tone of voice is casual, but the grin is wicked. In another twenty years, this boy will be just the kind of man who caused me a lot of trouble in my youth. "All right, then," say I, and their conversation moves seamlessly into less bawdy realms. My mission accomplished, I return to posting photographs for your entertainment. The forces of propriety have spoken, the vulgarity reigned in. This is only standard three-year-old mischief, and after all, even such well-brought-up, obedient, and generally civilized little men can enjoy a dip into the earthy vernacular from time to time.


Blogger kittenpie said...

hee hee - love it. Well played, Mary. Yes, even with much older kids, it often only takes a subtle reminder, because they know what they should and should not be doing! "Guys, remember there are little kids around in here, hey?" works well for me with those tweens and teens who still hang in the children's room.

3/20/2006 10:30:00 a.m.  
Blogger MsSisyphus said...

I pink puffy heart George.

And nicely played Mary. (Although I have visions of Arthur opening his mouth to answer, only to be kicked under the table by Darcy, and then protesting this injustice vigorously on the grounds that he "Was only telling Mary we were talkin' about putting playdough up the ass." Because he strikes me as a wee bit innocent that way)

And um, having just written that sentence, which I cannot imagine coming out of my 7 yr old's mouth, I have to wonder which one of them thought up this little ditty, and what he overheard at home to spark his imagination. Yikes.


3/20/2006 10:40:00 a.m.  
Blogger Kristen said...

Mary, you're so good at this. I would have immediately gone into a speech about how that's inappropriate, they should all apologize, etc. Which would only make them realize how risque they were being, and would result in their hiding such language from me in the future - rather than getting over the novelty of it and moving on.

And if Arthur is as much like Bryce as he sounds, I think mssisyphus is right about how he wanted to respond! :-)

3/20/2006 10:49:00 a.m.  
Blogger Granny said...

Good show. I'm still catching up from weekend.

3/20/2006 11:18:00 a.m.  
Blogger Peter said...

My mom uses such techniques today when she wants to get myself and my brothers in line.

3/20/2006 02:57:00 p.m.  
Blogger Angela said...


I love the technique though, it's so true that attention causes a behaviour to reappear, but that you couldn't totally ignore it because it's something they really shouldn't be saying!

3/20/2006 05:00:00 p.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

kittenpie: Subtle often works. Kids aren't stupid, (well mostly) and, as you say, they generally know when they're misbehaving. You don't have to tell them: you just want the behaviour to improve.

MsS: My, but you're good! That is exactly the sort of thing Arthur is likely to do. Happily for the other two, I don't think he was really paying attention. Not an unusual state of affairs...

I pink puffy heart George, too. :-)

And where did they learn to say this? Well, not from me! I'm fairly confident it would be George, who'd picked it up at home. Not a nasty, rough tough family at all, but a family wherein the normal standards of language decorum don't quite hold sway.

Dad sees nothing improper in using "good Anglo Saxon words" in natural speech. No, he doesn't use them in conversation with his children. It wouldn't suprise me, though, if, having been overheard by his very bright son saying "so-and-so can just stick that right up his ass", dad wouldn't turn it into just such a game.

That's my educated guess.

Kristen: Thanks. Remember, though, I've had about twenty years experience at this. If I haven't figured out good responses to standard toddler misdemeanours, there's no hope for me...

Oh, and I'd say that Arthur and Bryce playing together could either be hysterically funny (from the adult perspective), or a total train wreck. Or both!

Granny: Yes, you've been rather busy over there, I gather!

Peter: Once a mom, always a mom! Besides, she can't send you to your rooms anymore, can she?

Angela: Sometimes, when I think it's more deliberately provocative, or the child is older, it goes like this:

Me:[very pointed] I beg your pardon?

Child: Nothing.

Me: Good. Keep it that way.

(See? After 20 years, I have these things scripted!)

3/20/2006 07:39:00 p.m.  
Blogger MsSisyphus said...

I once created an entire grammar lesson around the word "fuck".

One 11th grader told another something was fing stupid. I calmly told him to "choose a different adverb please." and went on with the lesson. Another student then questioned, "Wait, don't you mean Adjective?" And an entire lesson on how adjectives describing other adjectives become adverbs was born.

3/20/2006 08:34:00 p.m.  
Blogger Queen Bee said...

Sigh... quick boys are cute. Quick guys? God bless their hearts if they focus their lives on doing good...

3/21/2006 04:16:00 a.m.  
Blogger Jenorama said...

My oldest son is at the age (12) that kids now not only know all of the swear words/inappropriate words, but what they mean and how to use them. But I do not allow the kids to just freewheelingly say whatever they feel like, and if I use one of those words, I always apologize and say, "Pardon my French."

The kids have started asking permission to use a word if they feel it is warranted in certain situations, or if they are quoting something. Mostly I don't give them permission, though, because if they say, "Can I say the 'h' word?" I reply, "No, I know what word that is."

But I don't kid myself that they are not going to grow up swearing like their mother...

3/21/2006 08:56:00 a.m.  
Blogger Mary P. said...

MsS: That is the single most over-used adjective/adverb in the history of the language. Congratulations on finding a creative use for it!

QueenBee: There's a book out there called "Stupid Boys are Good to Relax With" - but me, I've always preferred the smart ones! (The best thing going for the book is its title, so don't take that as an endorsement.)

Jen: Given how many French people I know - two or three families on this street alone - I somehow can't see using that particular phrase as a euphemism for obscenities. Besides, French is such a pretty language. If there's one out there that can make "Hello, isn't it a glorious day?" sound like swearing, it'd be German, not French!

I swear sometimes. My two older children do, sometimes, around me. My oldest (20), I let it go. She uses it appropriately all in all, and doesn't overdo it, and she's old enough - but I confess it feels weird not to say anything! My son (16) is generally told to keep it for his friends, and my youngest doesn't do it at all - at least around me!

3/21/2006 05:08:00 p.m.  

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