Time Out New York Kids, July 2007
Out Take: Little Potty Mouths
Profanity begins at home, but it doesn’t always end there.
Just ask your kids.
By Bruce Kluger
street with my seven-year-old, Audrey, trying
like hell to get us out of the path of an
“Whew, that was close,” I said as we jumped
onto the opposite curb, the speeding cab
whizzing behind us. “That guy looked like he
wanted to squash us.”
Audrey was oblivious to the peril. She
seemed deep in thought.
“Hey, Daddy,” she said finally, “have you ever noticed that cars look like they have
“Sure,” I responded. “And the headlights are the eyes, right?”
“Yeah,” she said. “And you know what? I think when cars are lined up on the side of
the street all day long, they probably want to yell at each other, 'Get your ass outa
I had to sit down on the sidewalk, I was laughing so hard.
Dirty language, I’ve learned, is the dirty secret of parenting: We all wish our kids
spoke like girl scouts and altar boys, but the truth is, hang out with a fellow-parent
long enough—especially here in New York—and you’ll eventually hear a dropped-
head confession about yet another little one’s latest adventure in language
development—the kind they don’t sing about on Sesame Street.
Like my neighbor’s toddler, Max, who stubbed his toe on the dresser and
unleashed a blue streak that would make George Carlin blush.
Or my six-year-old nephew, Noah, who missed a kick on the soccer field, then
bellowed, “Dammit, dammit, dammit—I’m so fwustwated!”
Or my buddy Chris’ four-year-old, Grace, a tiny, blonde cherub so precious you’d
swear she was created by Pixar.
“Gracie stepped out of the shower,” Chris recently emailed me, “and she was
wrapped in a towel. Her elbows were all scrunched in, her knees were shaking, and
her little jaw began chattering. Then, out of the blue, she says, ‘It’s fucking freezing
in here!’ Ooops. Looks like Daddy’s got to watch his mouth.”
Chris is right, of course. We have only ourselves to blame when our kids suddenly
get the urge to channel David Mamet. After all, they certainly don’t learn those
kinds of words from SpongeBob. Or their teachers. Or, um, Mom.
But not every kid makes a bee-line from potty-training to potty mouth. My older
daughter, Bridgette (11), for example, would never think of dabbling in profanity,
but that’s because I paid attention when she was small. I watched my language
constantly; and it was only when Bridgey was six—and hip to the difference
between her three-letter words and Daddy’s four-letter words—that I felt
comfortable enough to return to my salty old ways, confident that she wouldn’t
imitate me. Which she never did.
What I hadn’t counted on was that Audrey, then two, would begin soaking up my
colorful patois like a dirty little sponge. Within a year she had the mouth of a Marine.
But here’s the bottom line: Who cares? For all the anxieties we have about our
kids—keeping them happy, keeping them healthy, keeping them kind—do we really
have time to worry about what kind of warning sticker Tipper Gore might slap on our
Not me. In fact, these days, my house rules are pretty simple: We don’t say “hate,”
we don’t (intentionally) hurt feelings, and if we must let a bad word slip out every
now and then, let’s keep on the home front—not in school, not in public, not at
Barnes & Noble.
“And for God’s sake,” I remind the girls, “don’t use that language in front of
Grandma. She’ll fucking kill you!”