Sylvia was two. TWO mind you, when we had driven from Cincy up to Indianapolis for a family event. We were staying at Sally's mom's and, the weekend over, I was taking our bags out to the car as Sally sat in her mom's living room, amicably chatting away with half her family. The girls were playing and there was a din of chatter from Sally's mom, a few of Sally's aunts and uncles, her sister, a cousin, and a niece and nephew or two.
I threw a few bags in the trunk of the car and then came back inside to gather up the last little tidbits of our familial traveling detritus. But as I re-entered the living room, it was stone cold silent. Not a word was being said. No one was speaking.
I looked quizzically around the room as I blew through, en route to the back bedroom to get the last of our bags, then came back through the living room again. Still not a word. I asked Sally what was going on and she said, "I'll tell you in the car."
As you know, whenever someone says, "I'll tell you in the car," it's not going to be good. No one waits to tell you in the car that they were just nominated for a Pulitzer, or won the lottery, or realized what an absolute genius their kid is because the tike just recited a soliloquy from Hamlet. (And, in this case, quite the contrary.)
In the car, I learned that Sally had been asking the girls to get their things ready, 'C'mon girls, get your coats. Pick up the toys,' etc. She asked Sylvia to get her shoes on. Sylvia - as usual - didn't. Sally asked her again. Sylvia didn't. Sally asked her once more.
Sylvia - who was two mind you, TWO - turned, pointed her finger directly at Sally and replied, clear as a bell, in front of all those people (including her own grandmother, great aunts and uncles, an aunt, etc.) "Fuc yoo Mama, fuc yoo!"
Sitting in the car, the chilly silence of the room now made absolute and total sense to me.
"Wait, she really said it? I mean, it wasn't something that sounded like-"
"No," Sally replied, "She said it." Apparently Sylvia's body language, tone, the context, and the irascible little finger had made it all pretty clear and absolutely irrefutable. Our beautiful little blond, spritely two year old girl who loves fairies and princesses had just, in front of half of Sally's family, told her mom, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off.
'Hello, Child Protective Services? Yeah, hi. I have a couple of parents that might need... uh, CPS' help. You see their two-year old girl just told her mom to...' You get the picture here.
As I now hesitantly drove the car back toward Cincinnati and the girls watched 'Cars' (again) on the car's DVD player with the volume purposely turned way up, Sally and I muttered back and forth in the front seats.
"Did she really just..."
"And it was definitely...."
"In front of the whole family..."
The answer to all was an undeniable YES.
I flashed back a few weeks before, during a lovely family breakfast. The sun was out, the birds were twittering, and young Sylvia was just learning how to exert herself with her rather controlling big sister Lillian. Lillian would always tell Sylvia what to do and how to do it, but now Sylvia was finally pushing back, saying things like, 'No Yillian, me no like dat!' I was proud of her and her new efforts to be her own little woman.
On that morning, Lillian told Sylvia that they were going to do something together now, and Sylvia replied, "Uc-yoo, Yillian, uc-you!" After nearly choking on our Cheerios, Sally and I immediately looked at each other, eyebrows furrowed and shared a 'Did she just say...?' sort of look. We immediately laughed.
"That sounded like she just said...."
"Oh my god, I know. Didn't it?"
We looked at each other, again with furrowed eyebrows.
"Couldn't have been."
We went on about our day and all was well. After all, there's no way a two-year-old could have learned THAT word, THE WORD. Right?
Back in the car, wondering when the CPS helicopter would descend upon us, we realized that oh yes, she certainly HAD learned that word - and since the breakfast incident her enunciation had improved too! 'Congrats, Parents-Of-The-Year, that little Sylvia is really sumpthin'! Now, please duck your head as you enter the CPS helicopter.'
We finally devised a strategy on how to respond. We turned 'Cars' off for a moment and asked for the girls' attention. Sally and I spoke in tandem, like a right and left hook from a boxer, each one of us spurting out a sentence or two at a time.
"Sylvia, you used a word back there that's a very strong word."
"A word for adults. A word that only adults should use."
"And it's just not a word that children should be saying yet. A word you shouldn't say until you're much older."
"Much older. It's inappropriate to say it now."
"And definitely inappropriate to say it to momma."
"And certainly in front of the whole family."
"So that's a word that you should absolutely not use."
"For a very long time."
Sylvia was quiet, clearly hearing the stern, serious tone of our voices, and just taking in everything, her little brain replaying, reviewing, absorbing - as always.
Meanwhile though, Lillian's brain was tied in knots. In the midst of our stern words to Sylvia, Lillian was racing: "What is this word?!?!? What is it!?!? I didn't hear it, what is it!?!?!" Lillian was desperate to hear this wonderful, powerful, parent-shaking word, but we didn't dare go there.
I think Sally said something like, "Honey, it's a word that you don't need to know right now. It's inappropriate for children." She had to say something because I was being hit with one of those parental bouts of laughter where you're trying so hard to stay all parentally stern and serious, but you're laughing inside so hard you're nearly crying. Lillian's intense and passionate curiosity about THIS WORD, just about had me in stitches.
"You'll hear it, and learn it, soon enough Lillian, trust us."
We having now satisfactorily addressed the issue - and essentially run out of things to say about it, after reiterating our base message three or four times to Sylvia - the car got quiet. Sylvia never said a word.
Then Lillian piped up, "Can we turn 'Cars' back on?"
Yes honey, we certainly can. We turned the DVD back on, feeling better now to have addressed the issue and moved on, back to some sort of normalcy. I felt the CPS helicopter back off a little.
But, under the din of Lighting McQueen and Chick Hicks' banter, Sally and I kept talking about it. At one point, Sally rightly, and incredulously, asked, "I mean, where do you think she heard that word!?!?"
I thought back to the time that, in the midst of 'daddy-daughter wrestling time' Lillian launched herself in a 'Super Jump' from the couch, driving her skull into my right eye socket (awarding me my first parental black eye). I certainly bellowed THE WORD on that day, and loud enough for the neighbors to hear. But Sylvia was too little then, just about 18 months, and that had been a few years ago now.
But then I thought back to the nights that Sally and I often had beers while the kids played or watched a show. We'd talk about work, family, life, the house, etc. and sometimes, especially when talking about work, we tended to get a little animated, a little fired up. I could recall THE WORD coming out of our mouths on more than a few occasions.
And then there were the 'Friday Night Dance Parties' when we'd have Sally's music on while we were getting ready to go out or just blowing off steam, the girls running about, jumping on the bed, or just generally 'shakin' their booty'. Too often, Eminem or Kanye or someone else would come on, maybe talk about what they'd like to do in the back of 'their Hummer truck'...
The more and more I thought about it, the more and more I realized how often THE WORD is out there, all around us. And, I have to admit, Sally and I were both pretty amazed that Sylvia had gravitated toward this one special word (one that we certainly don't use daily but that is also, I now know, out there) plucked it from our lexicon, and applied it in - for her and for her little defiant moment - an absolutely correct context.
Regardless of our 'pride' in this special little, never-to-be-forgotten moment of familial bliss, Sally was still pretty mortified. After all, it was her daughter that just dropped, right in front of literally half her extended family, what was, as Ralphie in 'A Christmas Story' put it, 'THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word.' Soon after, Sally got a call from her mom about it. Sally absolutely fretted over it. She, as a good mom does, worried about it. She looked up advice online (Search: 'Toddler with trucker mouth') and dug into her little library of parental help books to find out what exactly had gone wrong and just exactly how to correct it.
Me, on the other hand, well, I (gently) made it the subject of our humorous little Christmas letter. Worse still, I eventually even wrote a blog post about it.
I think I hear that CPS helicopter in the distance again...