When you choose to bring a child into this world, your first duty is to ensure the health and well-being of that new little person. Physically, of course, but more important, mentally.
Physical care is so easy – make sure they’re clean, fed, and watered.
Mental care is the most difficult duty you sign up for on this planet. Emphasis on the word “care”.
Because if you are a crappy parent who doesn’t care for your kid, then everyone in the world knows where your kid will end up, and you will just say it’s their fault or the school’s fault or TV’s fault, or anyone else’s fault but your own.
But when you do care, you try so very hard to make sure your child is as close to happy as he or she can be. You guide them through their big feelings – sadness, anger, confusion. You remember the mistakes your parents made with you and you try your damndest to make sure you don’t do the same with your kids. It’s not something you have to think about – it’s just natural.
So when our kids are old enough to understand words, and concepts, and what is real and what is pretend, we start to let the tether loose a little. You know they’re going to hear words that are unpleasant. You hope to God they never say them. But you can’t shelter them from words. All you can really do is tell them the reality of those words – many people say them, many more people don’t like them. So be careful what you say around people. Even if the grownups around you aren’t so careful to watch their mouths around you.
Today when I went to pick up my son from daycare, his daycare leader took us both aside and said,
“He said a really bad word today.”
This is not so unusual for my son. When he gets upset the first thing he does is call everyone and everything a fucking asshole. He isn’t really aware he’s doing it. He is ASD, and it just comes out.
“What did you say, buddy?” I said, trying to be casual about it.
His daycare coordinator said, “Now, I don’t know where he heard this, or from who, or if he even knows what it means…”
“What did he say?”
Then the daycare coordinator told me and I nearly died. I asked if my son had been angry when he said it. The coordinator said no. That he had laughed about it. That almost made it worse.
We packed up, we headed out. He knew he had done something wrong but he didn’t know what it was.
I asked him where he heard the word. He wouldn’t tell me. So I let his dad handle this one.
In case you didn’t know, our blended family is a little more blended than your average blend. My son’s father is a tall, big, white, strapping Irish-German Acadian dude. My son’s sister is half-Afro-Canadian. And me? Well if you didn’t know, my parents came to Canada from Trinidad. I’m a blend of Chinese, African, Spanish, Portuguese, Pakistani, Saudi Arabian, and Arawak. That I know of.
My son is the biological blend of his father and his mother. My son’s father would probably knock the lights out of anyone who used a racial epithet towards either of his kids. That is if I didn’t get to the fucker first.
When I came back into the room, my son’s dad had tears in his eyes. We went to another room out of child’s earshot, to talk.
“This is my doing,” he said.
I was shocked. I tried to run through my head what it could have been. Song on Soundcloud/YouTube/car radio where the word of choice is often included with an “a” on the end instead of the much more maligning “-er”? That was the only thing I could think of. Because he would never in a million years even think of using that word at all.
Then he explained that his father had used it and that’s where the child heard it.
When my son’s dad and I were still together, his father came to live with us for a few months while he got some things in order, that never got into order. He was a pleasant enough man when other people were around, but when he was in a mood, as he often was, vitriol doesn’t even begin to describe what came out of his mouth.
My son’s dad told me a long time ago about the real reason why his dad had moved out early. He had called our son a retard. I’m glad he told me after the man had left because I would have probably cut off his shriveled up and dying ballsack. But it was enough to have his own son give him an ultimatum.
Apparently that wasn’t the only word he used towards our son.
You know, we try to look after our children, and now, we are supposed to and are obligated to look after our parents when they need help. When we tried to help my son's dad's father, in return, all he did was irreparably damage our child. I hope that old man's soul is tormented on the earth until long after the planet gets sucked into a black hole. I know my son’s dad wanted to reassemble his cremated ashes and knock the shit out of his dead father.
But we can’t. We were stuck holding the bag, wondering where to go next
The good news in a way is that our son didn’t realise he was being called something horrible and just thought it was a word. The bad news is that we had to now explain to him why his grandfather was a horrible person and why that word is forbidden from the vocabulary of our family, whether ending in the “-a” or the “-er”.
It was the talk you never want to have with your kids, but you know you have to, especially when your kid is multiethnic. I had hoped it would be from some stupid rap song, some kid calling to another kid across the school yard, even (what I had thought would be the worst scenario) some kid coming up to him and calling him that. But in a million years neither I nor his father ever expected to be completely devastated when we found out what had happened.
These are the things they don’t tell you about in parenting class. These are the things we work so hard to protect our children from.
And once we explained to our son why this word is never uttered, he understood. He understood it all. That was the worst part. And I hope by airing it out, that we can put it all behind us, and when he does hear that word again, he will be the first to step up and let whoever says it know that words do hurt and make them stop, too.