I swear

Published in the Ashland Daily Press

August 28, 2017


The first time I used a curse word, I was five-years-old. It was summertime and I was hanging out with my best friend, Jodi. She was four. We were forced to play outside in those days and were only welcome indoors when we needed a drink or to use the bathroom. The neighborhood kids usually went home when they needed to use the facilities, but Jodi didn’t want to do that on that particular day. Jodi’s mom was really mad at her.

We were on our way to the upstairs bathroom in my house when she confided in me. “I said a swear.”

“Really? What did you say?” I asked.

We cornered the landing and were in the private boxed stairwell when Jodi whispered, “I said shit.” She was nervous when she looked behind her, “I got a spanking. Really bad!”

“Oh,” I responded. I was perplexed. It seemed odd to me that my friend would be punished for using a word that was commonly used in our neighborhood by both children and adults alike. Damn-it was another popular expression I had heard a lot of the parents use when they were redirecting their child.

My parents didn’t swear. If my dad saw something us kids were doing that he didn’t think we should, he’d yell, “Marion!!” When mom came running to the rescue and saw what we had done, she’d get mad enough for the both of them. I never heard her swear, though. She used variations of the curse word, like darn it. Shoot. Gosh. Heck. That was the call to action that my five siblings and I heard in our household. If Mom was spitting mad, she’d start combining them. Gosh darn it! Shoot, what the heck?!

I figured Mom didn’t swear because she didn’t need to. What my mom had that other mom’s didn’t, was this facial transformation of sorts. When my mom got really mad, her hazel eyes turned into a laser like tool that paralyzed us into submission. She also had this commando voice that matched her glare. And when her arsenal of eyes and voice weren’t enough punishment to fit the crime, she’d direct us to a chair, and put us under strict observation until our time was served. The timer was set for anywhere between five minutes to twenty. I personally had numerous opportunities to evaluate the different chairs in our home.

I don’t ever remember getting a spanking, although I thought it may have had been a better option at times. I can assure you, a butt can get pretty sore after sitting on it for any length of time. And then on top of that, there’s nothing you could do BUT reflect on the bad deed . . . how things could had gone differently . . . always ending with some feeling of remorse . . .

At least with a spanking you’d be done with it already!

I felt bad for my friend. It seemed so unfair and I felt like Jodi was looking to me for some answers.

Once we were safely closed inside the bathroom, I stated the obvious, “Your mom is mean.”

“I know!” She agreed. Her cheeks were stained with dried tears.

Then I got to thinking. Maybe. Just maybe, it was an age thing?! Maybe you were supposed to be at least five-years-old to curse?! Yup. Now that made sense to me!

We had just finished up in the bathroom and that was when I decided to teach my friend a lesson about life, and how things worked.

We stood at the top of the staircase, readying to bounce down the stairs when I proclaimed, “I can swear in my house!”

Jodi looked at me like I was some kind of goddess. A look I was certainly accustomed to.

“Shit!” I announced with confidence to the deep vacant hollow we were about to descend into.

Jodi’s jaw dropped.

I started working my way downstairs, reciting, “shit” with each step. I took it slow at first, careful to synchronize the word with the clunk of my foot. There were probably twenty steps in all before we would hit the first landing, and it took the first five ‘shits’ before Jodi felt safe enough to join me. Through my guidance, Jodi seemed to loosen up and started to giggle with each step we took.

I rounded the corner at the landing for the final six steps that would lead us to the wonderful world of adventures in the great outdoors when we got stopped in our tracks.


I didn’t know if it was possible for a mother to go into shock. But the way my mom stood there, with her mouth gaped open and her eyes starting to dilate, I thought I may had finally done it to her.

Jodi raced ahead of me and scampered toward the door. Her bottom was probably still red from the last episode at her house and I’m guessing she wasn’t wanting to see me suffer the same wrath.

I knew the situation was bad. I felt my mom’s eyes bore into my skull, arms, legs . . . she pretty much was scanning my whole body. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel completely paralyzed. I focused on my feet and kind of slumped through the last few remaining steps. I was trying not to acknowledge the crazed, yet bewildered kind of look my mom had going on. When I crept past her, I held my breath, waiting to feel the sting of the spanking that seemed to partner the crime of a child caught cursing.

Nothing happened.

Which was kind of scary in itself.

I hurried through the kitchen in hopes to get to the back door before my mother came to her senses. My hand was sweaty as I turned the knob that would open the door to my freedom. I didn’t hear my name pulling me back, so I slipped out, shutting the back door behind me.

I raced into the safety of the backyard and found Jodi hiding behind one of the backyard bushes.

“What happened??” Jodi was half laughing, half scared out of her wits.

“Nothing,” I said. We must have looked like we just exited the haunted house tour at the county fair.

“Nothing??” Jodi covered her face as she started to giggle. “I thought your mom was going to kill you!!”

“Naw,” I said with a confidence I wasn’t necessarily feeling.

“Wow!” Jodi said, stricken with a sort of awe.

We sat there for a while, hiding in the bush. I was feeling a bit paralyzed, probably a delayed reaction from the recent body scan. I realized that I once again had taken bad behavior to new heights. Who knew when the coast was going to be clear again?

Jodi pulled down a branch and took a peak at my back door. She started to laugh again when she said, “I bet you’re never going to say shit in your house again!”

I had to agree with her. The use of my middle name had made it quite clear that I wasn’t supposed to swear. I had no immediate plans to re-enact the scene to see if I may have misread my mother’s signals either.

Jodi and I stayed in our hideout until the boredom of it got the best of us. I can’t imagine it was more than five minutes. As our play continued on into the afternoon, I found myself thinking about the different rules of each of the households in my neighborhood. Parents can, children can’t. Parents do, children do. Spankings. Timeouts. It was a lot for a little kid to figure out, I thought.

Maybe my mom had a chance to think things through a bit too. She probably realized that the whole thing wasn’t really my fault. I mean, how was I supposed to know that cursing was wrong? I was five. And everybody else was doing it.

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