As a child, I envisioned adulthood as the gateway to a smorgasbord of freedoms. (For me, freedom was the ability to eat cookie dough without worrying about salmonella, which may suggest I needed bigger dreams, but that's not the point.) I wasn't wrong. Being a grownup does carry with it a certain amount of autonomy and independence. (In addition to cookie dough, I've eaten vats of cake batter.) However, if maturity brought me to the doorway of liberty, parenthood slammed it in my face.
Gone are spur of the moment trips, late nights out with friends, making decisions based solely on what I want and sleeping in. Gone too is that hallowed American right -- my freedom of speech. Now that I have a 4-year-old with excellent hearing who never, ever stops talking, I have to watch what I say every freakin' minute of the day.
I remember when I longed for Little Dude to say his first word. Now I yearn for a moment of silence. Until my husband and I learn to communicate by telepathy, we are in danger of having our every secret broadcast to the neighborhood, every slip of the tongue repeated to teachers, friends and family -- our worst habits are exposed and exaggerated. Because I gave birth to a myna bird, previously permissible words, phrases and discussions are now forbidden until after 8 PM when Little Dude is safely tucked in bed.
I don't mind profanity -- sometimes, nothing gets a point across more clearly than a few four-letter words. Last week, however, Little Dude showed me the error of my ways. When I called him to bed, he begrudgingly said "OK" and started trudging upstairs. I took this as a victory. I thought he was adopting a new Zen approach to bedtime, until I heard him repeating over and over as he made his ascent: "Dammit, Dammit, Dammit, Dammit." I can blame my husband for that one. If Little Dude pulls out the F bomb, I'm on the hook. Now we say things like "Drat", "Darn" and "Shoot." It is completely unsatisfying.
2. "Oh. My. God."
This one doesn't bug me so much, but Considerate Husband, who is more aware of other people's feelings has outlawed this phrase to avoid offending people of faith. Having taught Little Dude both the expression and the delivery (it's important to pause ever so slightly between each word), I feel guilty. I am also incapable of stopping myself. Poor kid probably has whiplash from being corrected and then finding mommy staring awestruck at the mess in the kitchen quietly blaspheming.
I blame Schoolhouse Rock for my overuse of modifiers. They're catchy, sound nice and add a punch to sentences. They're like vocabulary MSG. However, there's no denying that I use adverbs more often than I should. "Actually" and "literally" top the list. I know this because Little Dude came running up to me the other day to announce that our dog, Max, "literally ate my dinner!" I don't know how Max could have metaphorically or figuratively eaten his dinner -- he's just a dog, after all -- but I got the message. Unless I want my kid to get beaten up on the playground for sounding pretentious, I'm cutting back.
Nothing can ever be stupid or dumb again. "Stupid" is my stepson's go-to description for anything he doesn't like. Which is fine, because he's sixteen and I trust him to know when he can use that word and when he can't. Little Dude doesn't have that filter and he worships his big brother. You know where this is going, right? In order to ensure that Little Dude doesn't hurt anyone's feelings or say something rude, we are avoiding adjectives. All of them. "Pretty" is sexist, "stupid" is derogatory, "slow" is judgmental and "annoying" is, well, annoying. I'm resigned to the facts and only the facts ma'am, until my kid hits his teens.
When I get frustrated with my husband, I have been known to say (lovingly, of course), "I am going to kill you." I thought this was innocuous until my relatives came to visit. As they were leaving, Little Dude told my cousin, "Next time you come to visit, I'm going to kill you and put you behind the couch." Then he gave him a big hug. Yeah, I'm not sure what to do with that one either, but it seems bad. Over the weekend, Little Dude also started proclaiming, "I control the world! No one else controls the world, only me!" I think he may be getting a little out of hand with the action words. Run, skip, sleep, eat, hug, kiss and play might be ok, but I'm considering banning the rest.
We believe in teaching Little Dude the proper names of things, so a penis is a penis in our house. It's good to be comfortable with one's anatomy. The downside is that he takes great joy in using those words in line at the grocery store, while playing with his friends at school and in discussions with us. To avoid hearing "I'm going to stick my penis out," and "You're a butt," the nouns have to go.
7. Declarative Sentences
I know I shouldn't use this phrase ever because it's rude, but every so often I jokingly tell my husband to "Shut it." Once, Little Dude overheard me. It was ugly. I also can't use "Sit down", "We're going to have a discussion" and "Here's the deal," without having them thrown back in my face when I'm trying to explain to him why he can't snatch toys away from his friends.
8. Non-verbal Communication
In addition to the horror that comes with hearing your child parrot your words back at you, there's a unique mortification that comes when he mimics your actions, too. I can no longer point, gesticulate, cock my head to one side, frown, purse my lips, glare, or put my hands on my hips. This kid is like Marcel Marceau. I'm going need a lot more yoga (or Botox) if I'm going to get a handle on my facial expressions.
If it weren't for all the times he says "I love you" I might have given up already. As it is, I am considering a vow of silence for the next few years. Either that or I send my kid off to be raised by wolves. Howling I can handle.
Follow Devon Corneal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dcorneal