I remember vividly the day Isaac said his first curse word. It was a dark, November evening. A cold northern wind had blown in earlier that day and seemed to foreshadow the evil that would descend upon our humble, pious family. I sat on the couch watching the news. Isaac was playing with toys on the living room floor. Laurie was in the kitchen preparing dinner when she said, “Honey, we don’t have enough potatoes for everyone.”
I took a moment to think of solution and Isaac chimed in, “Dammit, we need to get some more.”
His mother and I shared a look, which telepathically said, “Did I hear that correctly? Did he just say that?” I sat on the couch, waiting for his mother to say something, hoping she would know the best way to handle it. But she said nothing. We were both too stunned to speak, too shocked to know what to do. We both looked at our little two-year-old innocently playing with his little toys and mourned the loss of his childhood.
Finally, she came into the living room and kneeled on the floor beside him. “Isaac, what did you say?”
He responded matter-of-fact, “We need to get some more.”
“No, but what did you say before that?”
He said nothing, just gave her a confused look. We waited for him to come up with an answer, but he clearly had no idea what he said.
He continued playing with his toys, oblivious that he had done or said anything wrong.
“Do you think he really said it?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. Do you?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe he said, ‘Dang it.’ We say that all the time.”
Laurie rolled her eyes. “You know he didn’t say ‘Dang it.’ You say the other thing sometimes.”
“I do not.”
“You don’t say it all the time. But I’ve heard you say it once or twice.”
Isaac chimed in. “Are you guys fighting?” He pointed his finger at us. His voice was stern and authoritative. It was a dead-on impersonation of his mother and me.
“No, Isaac,” his mother and I said in unison.
Later that night, after we’d put him to bed, Laurie and I discussed it further. She told me I needed to watch what I said around him. I said I’d already tried my hardest to phase out everything but ‘shoot’ and ‘fiddlesticks’ and that sometimes those just didn’t do the job. I suggested he might have heard it from anyone – my parents, someone in Bible study, that kid at the playground with the Marilyn Manson t-shirt. I reminded her that he had recently learned how to operate the remote control. “Maybe he changed the channel when we weren’t in the room and heard it then.” But I she didn’t buy any of it.
I couldn’t help but feel a little on the spot. We didn’t discuss any of the ways she was a bad influence on him. I didn’t mention his whining, crying, or constant compulsion to ask me for money. Laurie seemed raw enough about what he said and it didn’t seem like the right time to bring any of those up.
It would be weeks later that a better option would occur to me. I was halfway out the door on my way to work when Isaac said, “Bye, Dammy. Love you.”
I turned around and saw him playing with his racecars, unaware of his mistake. “What was that?” I asked.
“Oh. I mean, bye Daddy.”
I considered calling to his mother who was in the bedroom folding clothes. I wanted to tell her what he said – that the morphing of our two names sounded at the same time hilarious and blasphemous. But I thought twice about telling her. I imagined her saying, “You still need to watch what you say.”
At that point in his verbal development, I was used to being called Mommy. I tried not to let it hurt my feelings. As a stay-at-home mom, Laurie got significantly more face time with him. But at times it really bothered me. It seemed like anytime I was nice or treated him in a nurturing way, he would call me Mommy. Then, one day Laurie called me at work and said, “Your son cracks me up. I just got on his case for something and he called me Daddy.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was sassing me and I told him, ‘You do no talk to your mother like that. Do you understand me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, Daddy.’ Isn’t that funny?”
I thought about it for a second. When I’m nice to him, he calls me Mommy. And when his mother disciplines him, he calls her Daddy. Great.
His verbal skills skyrocketed from the typical, three-year-old stammer to a very articulate four-year-old. He now consistently calls his mom and me Dammy or Moddy. Vivi is almost three and has inherited this morph. She’s so used to me leaving for work that whenever Laurie leaves she says, “Bye, Daddy.” While mom is out shopping, I make dinner and, as I pace back and forth from the kitchen to the table, Vivi says, “Thank you, Mommy.”
I say, “I’m not Mommy.”
“Oh. Thank you, Dad.”
“It’s okay. Eat your carrots.”
“Yes, Dad.” She picks up her fork and immediately takes big bite.
“Good job, Girlie. Do you want your milk cup?”
“Yes. Thank you, Mommy.”
I rub my forehead and sigh. “I’m not Mommy.”
“Oh. Thank you, Dad.”