Vocabulary Lesson

Posted by mwallach on July 6, 2012 in My Kids |

Dear That’s Life,
A close friend of mine recently put his oldest on the bus to sleep away camp. This was their first time sending a child away to camp and it was initially unclear who was going to fall apart first – the parents or the child. Within a few minutes, however, the winner was clear as the parents donned their sunglasses and packets of tissues were made available by friends. “I am not ready for his college semester abroad,” the dad told me later, still weepy eyed. Ever the realist, I said “He’s 9 – let’s worry about this later.”

We sent our oldest three children to sleep away camp this year, leaving our younger three at home. This was the first summer away for my older son and while we were concerned he might get emotional when it was time to say good-bye, he boarded the bus like a champ.

After the buses pulled out and I got back in the car with my younger clan, I was curious to see how the new pecking order would emerge. While in many other families the next in line is clearly delineated by age order, our next in line are twins who have just finished kindergarten. True that one child is older than the other, but not by very much. Who came out first and how much earlier does not often matter and rarely crosses our minds, but it obviously matters to some.

As we drove away from the buses, the conversation ensued between them as to who would sit next to our toddler on the bus to and from day camp on a daily basis. My son, the older twin, proclaimed that it should be his job and explained why. “I should sit with her,” he said, “because I am more responsible.” (His word, not mine.) My daughter, his better half, took offense at his comment. Although I am not convinced she knew what the word “responsible” meant, she definitely knew she was being insulted. The ranting and raving began as she asserted that they should switch off sitting with our toddler because that plan was fair. He was not convinced and I decide to wait a little before intervening. When he would not back down, however, it was time for a reality check.

Turning to my son who had quickly gone from “older brother” to “fascist dictator,” I reminded him that he was barely older than she was. “It was only a minute,” I said to him, a tinge of anger in my voice, but he was prepared with a response. “A minute is long enough,” he said, and thus solidified his place in the food chain. Playing the role of Solomon, however, I decreed that they would indeed switch off sitting with their younger sister on the bus. (For fans of “The Ten Commandments”: So it shall be written and so it shall be done.)

Continuing to assume their roles as the oldest children in the house, the conversation in my car then turned to “inappropriate language” they know they are not allowed to say. Being big kids, it seemed to them that the next thing they should know is what all of the bad words were that I do not allow.

There are two words I do not tolerate in my home: retarded and hate. I have no patience for either one and often find myself correcting adults when they say these things as well. All of my children know these words are not acceptable and are rapidly learning that there are other words that bother me as well, though not to the same degree. Fortunately for me, my twins could not remember what those words were and did not have older siblings around for consultation. Instead, they put their heads together in an attempt to figure them out.

“What is the F word?” I heard my daughter ask my son as I froze in horror. He thought for a moment and then it came to him. “FAT!” he exclaimed with a smile on his face, as if hitting the jackpot. I breathed a sigh of relief. Before he could bask in his glory, however, my daughter turned on him the way only a woman could. “Mommy!” she cried, pointing at her brother. “He called me fat!” Truth be told, to any woman “fat” really is the “F word” so I knew exactly what she was talking about. But the conversation did not end there.

“What’s the S word?” asked my son. I have often referred to “stupid” as the “S word” and cannot stand when someone is referred to as stupid. Something can be stupid, like a fool’s errand or a bad movie, but a person may not be referred to that way. Again, I hung back and listened to the conversation unfold instead of intervening. I was convinced they would remember it was “stupid.” This time, it took them longer to come up with an answer and it was not what I had expected. Before long, a light bulb went off over my son’s head. “SHNITZEL!” he exclaimed, and I did all I could to contain my laughter.

A little later, I told my husband about the events in my car. While we both got a good laugh out of the story, I pointed out the obvious: If this is the WORST language we heard the entire summer, we were going to be just fine.

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