Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned From Lou Reed

Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned From Lou Reed

 

0-8Those gritty, witty lyrics, dealing harsh truths that I never quite lived but knew I wanted to know about. As a teenager, I listened and I loved the dark worlds he painted. But later—I am not even kidding about this—Lou Reed was the heart of my parenting soundtrack, my melodious Dr. Spock. Because in addition to songs about edgy experiences that I never had and never would, Reed wrote, so eloquently, to the world I do live in. In my pantheon of Reed favorites, two in particular have been going through my head since we all got Sunday’s sad news.

*   *   *

My children, like pretty much everyone’s in this particular 21st-century parenting culture, are quite gifted.

Gifted children get enriched to within an inch of their lives in my world, and while I can mostly recognize this is bullshit, I am also easily seduced. A mama starts to worry that if her children aren’t virtuosos at a potpourri of sports, stringed instruments, and world languages, they will end up all kinds of fail.

But Lou Reed always called me on it. Whenever I found myself about to sign some small person up for something ridiculous, be it baby French or a couple of paychecks’ worth of SAT prep, the bossy and unsubtle lyrics of Reed’s “Teach the Gifted Children” smacked me to my senses:

Teach the gifted children, Lou told me, and then he listed exactly what those children need to know: Teach them to have mercy. Teach them about sunsets … about anger about mystery … about forgiveness …

Dude. It’s so much easier just to sign them up for Math Club and soccer camp.

That path of those other lessons is not nearly as well-marked, and comes with very little college-admissions upside.

Lou Reed knew what kind of gifted mattered most, and the characters that populated the underbelly-world he mostly sang about were not that. My children, irrespective of how they might fare on any test, have been gifted with love and support, with the assumption that they’ll be fed when they’re hungry, and stay warm and dry when winter comes.

Teach them about mercy, he sang, and for children born into lives of education and enrichment and power, what more important subject could we possibly teach? Baby Mozart, surely, is secondary.

*   *   *

Reed’s chronicling of the world’s darkness has long been hailed from all corners. But in my own small corner, it was his ability to mix light into all the dark that spoke most powerfully. “What’s Good” is a catchy little number, a hilarious catechism of the ridiculous:

What good is seeing-eye chocolate?

What good’s a computerized nose?

Reed wrote “What’s Good” after watching two close friends die in the same year, and he moves his lyrics quickly from goofy-absurd to horror-absurd:

What good is cancer in April?

Again and again he asks the question—What’s good?—but his song keeps not answering and it starts to peter out until you think maybe there won’t be an answer. But at last, gathering strength, the backup singers start to chant: Life’s good. Reed speaks, rather than sings, the wonderful, terrible truth in the song’s last line:

Life’s good. But not fair at all.

Life is absurd-funny and absurd-horrible. Deeply unfair, and deeply good. It’s hard to hold both those truths, so Lou Reed wrote us a song to help.

I added “What’s Good” to a hundred playlists, hoping to inoculate my children against that awful, inevitable moment when they must learn about horror and pain. When the great unfairness strikes, I prayed for them, let this live in their bones, so deep they don’t know whence it came: Life’s good.

What better way to put a truth in our bones than to sing it there, with Lou Reed?

Youngest was ten when she, too, lost one of her closest friends to cancer. Acute myelogenous leukemia doesn’t fuck around, and when this sweet boy went from healthy to gone within a week, all we could do was hold our girl tightly as grief howled through her too-young self. She hurled her shaking body into us—her daddy, sister, brother and me—and we made it to the couch. She lay across all our laps at once and we wrapped ourselves around every trembling bit of her, murmuring.

“I know it, baby. I know.  It is the worst possible thing, and it is not fair.” We listened to “What’s Good” over and over, that winter.

“Life’s like Sanskrit read to a pony,” Uncle Lou sang, and we understood that he wasn’t being glib. He simply knew that sometimes, there is no sense to be made.

That spring, Youngest approached me, a little shy: “I’m starting to think maybe…” she stared at her foot in its pink sock. Pink had been her buddy’s favorite color, and she’d barely taken off the socks they’d passed out at his funeral. “I’m starting to think some tiny good things have maybe come from the huge, awful thing. Does that make me a terrible person, thinking that?”

Not at all, sweetie. That’s life. What kinds of things?”

“Like, from the beginning of fifth grade, boys and girls couldn’t play together or people would tease and make kissy noises. But now, everyone just plays with everyone, and is nice to each other. It’s like we all know what matters. I think … I think it’s good…”

She left it there.

Thank you, Lou Reed. Not just for your brilliant raising up of streets and grit and darkness. As I try to teach my gifted children, try to teach them what’s good, I thank you also for your glimpses of light, and for singing me into the motherhood I want to live out.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Pajama Night Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

Pajama Night Probably Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

0-1The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what.

This is a story about why I find myself in a bar most Tuesday evenings, often wearing penguin pajamas. (The penguins themselves are wearing scarves and pompom hats, very stylish.)  I was driven to this ritual the usual way: Chili glops on the kitchen counters.

*   *   *

Some years ago, I floated downstairs on a Saturday morning, heart swelling with a fantasy of breakfasty togetherness. The work week was behind me, and this morning I would orchestrate a cozy domestic tableau: a pajama-clad family smiling around homemade yumminess. Anthony, bless him, had cleaned the kitchen last night. I was about to mess it up again, in the name of Motherly Love.

My fantasy cracked when I walked into the kitchen and stuck to the floor. It shattered completely when I saw the counters, still sporting the crumbly, saucey reminders of last night’s chili and cornbread. DAMMIT.

To be fair, pots had been scrubbed and the trash taken out. But I was smacking right up against our most reliable drudgery trap: Anthony just doesn’t see some things. And I do.

You can’t make someone notice that which he does not notice. So as prime notice-er, I faced a familiar choice: I could gently point out the problem:  “THIS ISN’T WHAT IT MEANS TO CLEAN THE KITCHEN!”

Or I could finish the cleaning myself, doing last night’s work before whistling up a delectable breakfast.

I felt my golden-glow morning slip-sliding toward resentment. Those options suck.

Then . . . waitasec. What were the essential elements of my fantasy? Surely the parts about being cozy in our pj’s and enjoying each other mattered more than my star turn as Donna Reed. Could I salvage what mattered most, without needing to develop a Glop Strategy?

I threw on a sweatshirt and scrawled a note: “Gone to Fargonian. Saw no reason to get dressed. Come!”

Anti-drudge strategy #1: Flee the scene of the drudgery.

*   *   *

On that Saturday and for two years following, our family dribbled by ones and twos, as we woke up, into the tiny café just three blocks from our house. Each week, Heidi, the café’s owner, would ask “Strawberry crêpe?” and Youngest, whose pj’s still had feet, would answer “YES, PLEASE!”

Heidi gave extra whipped cream and never asked the kids to pay. She knew Anthony and I would be along eventually and our family would loll on her couch, licking our plates and reading old National Geographics.

That first morning had just been about ditching the nobody-wins options of the drudge dynamic. (And by the time we got home, all the juice was out of my frustration—I mentioned the chili-n-crumbs to Anthony, he cleaned it, and that was that.). But it turned out our new ritual had a whole ‘NOTHER drudgery antidote built inside it: other people. We’re not always our best selves around strangers (see: The Entire Internet), or even around the people we love best. But toss some nice neighbors into the mix?

Anti-drudge strategy #2:  Community.

Community isn’t just a small-town phenom—we live smack in the center of a metro area of three and a half million people. It’s whether you bother. Bother to go to the same little place every week, tell the person behind the counter your name and ask hers. It’s whether you talk to her a bit, ask how the morning is going, and how her son is liking Kindergarten. Friendships make the world merry. And good feelings quash the drudgey ones—that’s just scientific fact.

Yes, yes, community, nice. But where is the Tuesday-night drinking?

*   *   *

Our Saturday goodness came crashing down when Heidi closed her restaurant. (Turned out my panacea was her drudgery. Who’da thunk?) A bar—a BAR—moved into the space, and our cozy family refuge was replaced by hipsters and noise and all like that.

It’s possible I sulked for a few months.

“I’m not a bar person.”

But by now Eldest was babysitting age, and I was starting to learn about flexing a little.

Two years before, I’d given up my homecooked fantasy but kept its key components:

*   Dress for comfort, and

*   Together time.

We’d added, by happy accident,

*   Community.

Now, we’d transition from café to The Bottleneck. (The hipsters wouldn’t mind—didn’t their species maintain a staunchly pro-pajama stance?) Liquor laws meant we’d have to redefine together, but Anthony and I were due for some moments without the chilluns.

Anti-drudge strategy #3: be flexible.

We learned that the bartender’s name was Tyler.

We call it Pajama Night. In place of kidlets, we invite all the grownups we know. Friends within walking distance often come, but sometimes it’s just the two of us. Pajamas are optional, but the greeting is required:

“Happy Pajama Night!”

“Happy Pajama Night to you!”

We are cheery and making fun of ourselves and dead serious about this. The battle against drudgery that started as a way to keep my life in order without killing anyone has expanded, as all good philosophies must. It’s about finding territory where there’s no work for me to do (or to notice has not been done), and being with people we love. It’s about flexing my requirements, knowing that if I keep focus on what’s truly important, I can scoop up more joy—and leave disappointment behind.

Not everyone has a neighborhood café or a neighborhood bar (or pajamas.) These things are not the point. The point is: What is the essence of what I need, to love my life a little better? Does it have to be an exact thing, or is there a similar option that maybe is easier, and close at hand?

*   *   *

Anthony’s still in his clothes from work but I changed into hoodie + penguin bottoms shortly after dinner. Peter, our new bartender, calls “Happy Pajama Night!” as we open the door. My sister will show up soon, straight from class. Beth might be here later in her bathrobe and slippers, because Beth doesn’t do things by halves. We long for the reappearance of Bill’s robot pajamas, but wardrobe doesn’t matter. It matters that we’ve made it here, again, to enjoy the blessing that is friends.

Without my asking, Peter brings a Pajama Night drink invented just for me—the Pink Margot II. I am in a bar in my pajamas and many of the people know my name. I don’t have any idea what’s in this drink, but I know it is both bitter and sweet, which works.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

 

Stealing Time For Fun: The Magic of the Homeschool Day

Stealing Time For Fun: The Magic of the Homeschool Day

It’s a little maudlin at my house these days. Through a combination of natural attrition and a distressingly adventurous Youngest, our nest is prematurely (if temporarily) empty. I’ve been wandering through bedrooms and sighing a lot, remembering the times I said “I AM SO TIRED OF THIS” instead of “Sweetie, come here. Tell me.” It’s going to be a long-ass haul to December.

In one room, left bittersweetly messy, I am dwelling on all the times I got it wrong when my eye falls on a coupon. It’s taped high on the wall, safe from the chaos below:

homeschooling coupon

One of the tragedies of working full time was that my evenings were all about tasks. Weekends, of course, were errands-and-sports. Eventually I realized that, to get several hours in a row that were PURE FUN, I was going to have to steal them.

Everyone knows that stolen time is sprinkled with pixie dust, all activities more magical when you’re supposed to be doing something else. Tom Sawyer had more fun playing hooky than he ever did on a Saturday afternoon.

But casting myself as both Tom and Aunt Sally would be tricky; it’s a far more gifted parent than I who can manage the message: “Cutting school with me is special fun, but try this with your little friends and INCUR MY WRATH. School matters!”

But I wanted to playyyyyyy.

And so homeschool day was born. Each kid got a single coupon a year.

I didn’t always know what precipitated the triumphant cashing in of a coupon – time for a break? a good weather forecast? – and I didn’t pry. I just took the coupon and started planning. And because our kids have been blessed with many of the best schoolteachers on the planet—thank you, thank you, thank you—we always had cheerful school-side partners in crime. (Ditching work was harder, but, you know, whatever.)

Now, if I were actually homeschooling, I’d have needed things like a long-term plan and possibly some training. But really, how much damage could I do? Tomorrow, my darling would be back safe with the professionals. (NB to actual homeschooling parents: Wow. Go you.) Having absolutely no responsibility to anything made my prep work giant fun.

I made Highly Official trappings. A printed schedule, with class periods and color coding. Very legit. Such hullaballoo is hardly necessary, but I found it upped the fun AND kept me feeling good about the messaging—this was different school, not skipping school.

And because I am hip to all the big-league educational trends, my homeschool always sported an INTEGRATED CURRICULUM. When Eldest, third grade, slapped down her coupon one dreary November evening, my subsequent lesson plan was as Thanksgiving as a smiling, bulletin-board turkey.

Four days later at 8:30 sharp, first period, we headed to the kitchen for Mathematics (she loved when I called it “Mathematics”). Our task was to quadruple all the recipes for Thanksgiving dinner BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY, LEFTOVERS ARE THE WHOLE POINT. We got out actual ingredients when necessary, and the lightbulb that went on when Eldest measured 3/4 cup butter four times—“Hey! That’s three cups!”—was barely dimmed by the surrounding white haze. (Flour is not the best choice for teaching fractions. Well, now I know.)

For Literature & History (double period, 1-2:40), I read aloud from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, because it is vaguely Pilgrim-y. Plus, it has that chapter where the Tory governor cancels Thanksgiving, even though long-suffering Mercy has already made the pies.

And so on.

In Homeschool Day, we found that sweet spot where what my child likes anyway (school in pajamas!) hit what I really wanted to share with them (books from my childhood!).

One year, we revolved Middlest’s day around his favorite part of regular school: P.E. We jogged a mile to our favorite park, then talked about why exercise makes us sweat. Flopped on the grass that was today our classroom, we read Jackie and Me, a fictionalized look at the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, and then we calculated batting averages.

The quasi-formality I drummed up each Homeschool Day resulted in a kind of role play, Student and Teacher. This broke some of the unpleasant habits we fell into as Parent/Offspring. I’m sorry to admit that I was reliably more patient as Math Teacher than when I was monitoring math homework.

The kids stepped up their game, too. When Mom chirps on a weekend morning, “Guys! Let’s go to the museum!” it’s just a groan. But when your homeschool schedule reads:

1 pm: Field trip, The Frye

Well, that’s a whole other thing.

And when we went to the Frye Art Museum (a free collection of manageable size, and close to home), I had Eldest pick her favorite picture (ART CLASS!), then create backstory for it in the form of a poem or a fairy tale (WRITING!). While she scribbled in her notebook beneath a painting twice her size, I wandered the museum and created a kind of scavenger hunt:

Identify art that. . .

…makes you feel scared

…makes you feel hopeful

…makes you feel sleepy

Afterward, we tried to pin down what the artist had done to elicit those feelings. Bonus: Her “scary” picture had a battle scene on it, so we went ahead and learned what the fighting had been about. (HISTORY!)

We got a lot of mileage out of the museum. Then we went to its café and ate a lot of cake. (LUNCH!)

My kids are too old to want homeschool days, now. (Not to mention NOT EVEN PRESENT. So unacceptable.) But a relic on the wall above a crash scene of rejected clothing brings back those stolen moments: in the museum, at the park, in a cloud of flour. I wasn’t only drudgey. There were times I got it right.

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

Dear Drudgery: Setting The Table For Thankfulness

Dear Drudgery: Setting The Table For Thankfulness

0-1The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun. Now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter!  It helped.

I’m not sure if there’s a right way to teach gratitude. (I do know that endlessly repeating “You should be grateful!” is not as effective as you might think.)

And kids aren’t the only ones with gratitude issues. When I’m feeling drudgey, counting my blessings is just one more damn thing I’m not getting done. My crabbiness about preparing another dinner obscures my great good fortune that I have something to prepare.

But I’m convinced gratitude is a muscle—you work it, it gets strong, and suddenly you’re flexing all over the place.

My husband, without even trying (OH HOW TYPICAL) hit on a way to get us to work that muscle hard. In the beginning, neither of us had any idea he was striking a blow against drudgery and for blessing-counting.

Anthony’s announcement appeared on a Friday—a single sheet of printer paper taped to the inside of our front door, where none of us could miss it as we stumbled downstairs toward consciousness. He’d used clipart of the Extra, Extra guy—you know, the one brandishing a newspaper, from the Chance cards in Monopoly.

Coming soon! he was shouting. Hot Breakfast Wednesday!

?!?

Neither the Extra, Extra guy nor Anthony was providing further detail, so for five long days we waited. Anthony had never announced a Big Thing before. To be honest, Things were kind of my thing.

On the Wednesday in question, I stayed home to witness. (Our both-parents-work rhythm typically involved me heading to the office very early while Anthony did mornings. I got home in time to produce something edible for dinner.) And OH MY! The fully set table held waffles and fruit and warm syrup in pitchers. Sausages! It was like Christmas morning but WAY BETTER, because I hadn’t been up until 2 a.m. wrapping things.

Every Wednesday, Anthony told us, he would make a legit breakfast before school.

Hot Breakfast Wednesday became instant legend. And, like anything awesome, its name was soon nicked—even the acronym HBW wasn’t short enough. “Woo hoo!” hollered Middlest the following week, banging down the stairs at 6:55 while groping his way into a t-shirt “It’s time for HBDubs!”

You’d think I’d be thrilled, too, right? Super grateful? There was my husband, being all awesome! Taking his own steps to undrudge-ify our lives, not looking to me to do it!

I was, mostly. But this one little corner of me was kind of a dick. It couldn’t help but notice that I produced dinner regularly, with no formal announcement.

“And dinners are way harder!” that bit of me whined.

The kids gushed about HBW to their friends. I tried to imagine anyone saying, “Guys! My mom does the coolest thing. Almost every night when I come home, there’s dinner! No joke—hot dinners, like constantly!”

But Anthony figures out the waffle iron, and suddenly he’s this big hero?

I hate when I get resentful and pissy. I do it anyway.

*   *   *

 What’s for breakfast? Anything, everything. Pancakes, of course. Eggs all ways. Beans and rice. Hash browns—from potatoes we grew in the garden or a bag we grabbed in the freezer section. Scones. BACON. No vegetable? No worries! Breakfast is a very forgiving meal.

Like any cultural icon, HBW was soon rich with ritual and unwritten rules:

1. The table is set. Whoever’s home sits down. We talk to each other.

2. Except for clearing their dishes, kids aren’t asked to help.

3. HBW goes on hiatus whenever school does.

But the most interesting convention of HBW was so subtle that I didn’t know it existed until a not-us person broke it. One Tuesday evening, a friend of Middlest asked what must have seemed like a reasonable question:

“Hey, what’s for HBDubs tomorrow? Ask your Dad if you can have. . .”

Anthony and I, overhearing, gasped and looked at each other. Who was this punk?

“Dude,” said Middlest, “We don’t ask.”

The unspoken (till now I guess) principle of HBW is that it is the product of divine intervention. Like snow days, manna from heaven, a letter from Hogwarts—HBW happens to you; your only job is to receive it with thanks. Anthony must have instilled this somehow. Wordlessly, which is his way.

We mixed up the rhythm and I got a stint as HBW master. One week I apologized for a particularly lame offering: “Sorry, guys. I didn’t get to the store so it’s just oatmeal today. I toasted some almonds, though.”

And Youngest replied “Mama, it’s hot breakfast! This is awesome! Thanks for making it for us!”

*   *   *

HBW was so over-the-top wonderful that our kids couldn’t help but express their gratitude—flex, flex, flex. I’m glad they were older (Youngest was in sixth grade) when Anthony started it. It wouldn’t have been a miracle in Kindergarten, but when you’ve been getting your ownself out the door for years—and then, suddenly, a weekly feast appears?

Middlest took a gap year. When he returned from his travels to live and work at home, the job he finally found kept him working past midnight. But there he was each Wednesday morning, chatting delightfully, saying THANKS THAT WAS SO DELICIOUS! (and then, usually, going back to bed.) When asked why he set an alarm, he said:

“I just figure. . .Hot Breakfast Wednesday is a two-way street.”

And so Anthony’s brainchild became a canvas on which what’s best about our family got writ. A midweek moment where we show up and no one bickers and we are our best selves.

But what about my own petty resentment, that little, drudgey place in me that had been crabby about. . . uneven thanking?

I got over it. I’m an all-in HBDubs fangirl.

*   *   *

Gap year is over, and Anthony just dropped Middlest off at college on the other side of the country. He emailed me:

“We picked up the boxes at Bed, Bath & Beyond. As the clerk rang us up, [Middlest] looked at me and said, ‘Thanks, Dad. Thanks so much to you and mom for buying me all this stuff.’ The clerk nearly wet herself. She said, ‘Now, that’s what I’m talking about. He’s the first kid I’ve heard this week thanking his parents.’”

And then that nice clerk threw a 20% discount onto the entire order.

HBDubs doesn’t get all the credit, but I know it helped get our gratitude muscles in shape. So, Hot Breakfast Wednesday? Thank you.

 

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.

The Drudgey And The Profane

The Drudgey And The Profane

 

0-1The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun. Now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter!  It helped.

I don’t know that I’m a good person (seems unlikely), but I do do a lot of good-person things. I offer old people my seat on the bus and give money to people who need it. I’m polite to strangers, even though many of them bug the shit out of me. I call my parents. I try to do what’s best for the children.

And I swear like a motherfucking sailor.

I was raised better. I grew up in gentle gardens of dangits and shoots and, when the crud really hit the fan, my mom might let fly an effing or two. But while most of my peers likewise cleaned up their acts when parenthood hit, I’ve held my profanity close.

This isn’t, for one minute, because I think words don’t matter. Of course words matter. Their mattering is exactly why I can use them, in my ongoing campaign against drudgery.

See, the Drudge in me waxes and wanes, and I’m at my grumpy drudgiest when I’m feeling trapped in the Mom-role. (It’s the role I love most, but it can get kinda trappy in there, amirite? What with all the clutter and the exhaustion and all.) And just about everything I do—my sleep, my finances, where I live, how I spend my time—is determined, quite rightly, by that role.

But the way I talk—I can make that role-agnostic. Words are something I can choose exactly the way the non-parent me would choose them. When I stub my toe and say an honest Shit!—that’s the me of me speaking. (Sometimes I wonder wistfully what it would be like to have been born with a gentle temperament, the kind where daily annoyances don’t make you want to swear, or throw dishes.)

As I was evolving my Philosophy of Profanity, I noted that letting-me-be-me might be nice conceptually, but there really are good reasons not to swear in front of the children. For example, no one wants to hear kids swearing. And also, profanity offends people (who might then get judgey about my parenting).

Totally legit reasons! Oh my goodness, I should never swear in front of the kids! But when I looked a little closer. . .

1.     We shouldn’t swear because we don’t want our kids to swear.

Um, hypocrisy much?

Most of us don’t want our toddlers knocking back martinis, yet we drink in front of the kids. We tell our children not to hit—then we turn on the football game. And violent rampages by evil geniuses are obviously verboten, but fuck me if every film in the entire James Bond canon isn’t some kind of PG.

Pick your poison. All of us have behaviors we don’t want our children to mimic, but we expose them anyway. (You don’t? Ever? Yay, you! Now, please never come to my house. I love my children very much and I fear that you will earnest them to death.)

2.     Profanity is upsetting to others.

In all things, I figure, be kind. Swearing near children is going to bug some people. In those cases, minding my tongue isn’t not being myself. It’s simply being the self to whom my mama taught manners.

At our house, Youngest hates it when I swear. (She’s pretty status conscious; I think she doesn’t want me to sound common.) So I try to keep it clean when she’s around. As a parent, I prize caring for each other over any vocabulary option.

Along these lines, the one curse I stay away from is the one just about everyone else uses freely. How in the world did “Oh my God” (or G-d, for my friends in the Tribe) become the least sweary of all the swears? Of the myriad curse words available, that one is actually supposed to be sacred. It’s vested with emotion and meaning that people hold dear. (Okay, perhaps some people feel that way about the world asshole, but I’m going to posit that they’re an edge case, and not mine to worry about.)

I use a lot of words in vain, but not God. I ask my kids to refrain, too. Because words matter, I tell them.

*   *   *

Since I chose to employ profanity as a means of staying More Me, Less Drudge, I had to come up with some ground rules.

Swearing, I tell the adorables when they’re little, is a grown-up thing.

Later, I work to combat the notion that kids swearing is cool: You know that kid who always tries to act older than he is? Yeah, he looks ridiculous. Don’t be that guy. Leave the swearing to the professionals until you get your learner’s permit.

(Obviously, you have to be able to swear once you can drive.)

When to swear, and around whom, is nuanced. I figure (not rationalizing at all) that my profane ways provide a decent object lesson in situational ethics: I may swear around you but you may not swear around me; neither of us curses around grandma; how you talk with your friends is up to you. . . .

*   *   *

The jury’s still out on the good-person thing, but I’m pretty sure that my occasional “Fuck it!” is infinitely better than me lobbing the salad plates. And when Youngest hears me bite it back at “F…,” she knows I’m doing it for her.

What’s best for the children? A mama who feels like she’s many, many things—including a mother. A mama who recognizes that caring is reflected by more than whether our sentences would get past the FCC. In my case, that means being a mama who swears.

Illustration by Christine Juneau

Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.