Flag. An innocent enough word isn’t it? And one of toddler Eliza’s new ones. She’s trying it out a lot at the moment as it’s difficult to drive a mile in the US without spotting one. McDonald’s sport a particularly large one (not that we stop there all that often you understand – we just pass by it on our way to those high fibre, Brussel-sprout-and-grass smoothie joints which are so much better for expectant mothers...) which she gets tremendously excited about.
Rather embarrassingly though, the word has morphed a bit since she started using it. This I noticed for the first time when buying Christmas cards in a local quaint and quiet stationery shop. With the sales clerk silently busy with card-tidying beside us, I browsed the box packs while Eliza tottered next to me, all of us enjoying the calming ting-ting of a piped Christmas carols CD.
Then, out of nowhere came an almighty - ‘F*ck’. Appalled and stunned in equal measure, the sales clerk and I both spun towards the source of such profanity. My pint-sized, 18 month old daughter. ‘F*ck,’ she screeched again, as if delighted with the attention, her little finger pointing upwards, ‘F*ck, f*ck, f*ck.’
The sales clerk’s eyes met mine and hovered in momentary condemnation before we both swivelled to see what Eliza was pointing at. A flag. Innocently pinned to the wall. I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh flaaaaaaaag,’ I smiled, collapsing into nerve-ridden guffaws. The shop assistant soundlessly returned to her work. I scooped up the first box of cards I could lay fingers on with one hand and my still-swearing toddler with the other and made for the check-out mortified.
Out of the mouths of babes....come usually sweet, tender, innocent little sound-bites to warm the cockles of Granny’s heart. So what was I to do with F*ck? It’s not like we’re not going to see flags around. We live in America now! They’re flapping outside every third house, billowing aloft over fast-food establishments. Our drive home listening to the Laurie Berkner Band is now peppered with profanity as Eliza partakes of her favourite activity – flag spotting.
Sh*t however, I can take full responsibility for. Hands up, I’m a terrible potty-mouth and though I’m trying to rein in my tongue, this one slips out occasionally in front of her. Like the little sponge that Eliza is, she soaked it up and lobbed it right back at me. ‘Sh*t,’ she grinned. Temporarily dazed, I stared dumbstruck as she awaited my retort. I hadn’t even realised I’d said it – how bad is that? ‘Shippppp,’ I corrected before, for reasons unbeknown even to me, breaking into the tried and trusted carol ‘I Saw Three Ships.’
Mercifully that worked. If Sh*t slips through the net in our house now (which is by far and away usually Husband N’s doing of course, not mine...) it’s accompanied by a toddler trilling a trio of ‘Ship’s’ and a mother insanely singing nautical-inspired Christmas songs.
Expletives aside, I’m pleased as punch that Eliza’s taken to language so well. She’s at that stage where she’s trying to repeat every word we say. She plays with words in her mouth, rolling them over and over. Some of them she finds so thrilling, she explodes into fits of baby giggles at their mere utterance. Who’d have thought repeating the word ‘orzo’ could distract her enough at mealtimes to eat five sticks of broccoli?
Back to the mystery of ‘Flag’. I just don’t get where Eliza’s version of it has come from. Even Sailor Sal has an inbuilt guttural mechanism which prevents that bad-boy coming out in front of my child. Duck, I could understand - truck even. Each time she utters it, I of course intercept with its proper pronunciation, repeating Flag-g-g, Flag-g-g, Flag-g-g-g. She usually just smiles sweetly before shooting another F*ck right back.
But her ability to absorb words and put her own spin on them really got me thinking about the responsibility I have as her mum and as a mother-to-be. I’ve noticed the language between shelf stackers at our local supermarket gets pretty colourful and that, I can’t control. But I must do better with my own tongue. There’s a whole alphabet of swear words out there and I can’t be the one to teach them to her. That’s what high school’s for right?