Monday, June 13, 2016

Why I let my 5 year old son say the world "Bullshit"

bull shit photo: no bull nobullshit.jpg
***This entry has been re-posted due to popular demand.  Its original posting was in 2010.

Before you pelt me with molotav cocktails, hear me out. A few months ago I was in front of a so-called "progressive" Cook County circuit court judge trying to convince him that I should have expanded visitation with my two preschool aged children. The judge looked down on me from his perch and asked, "How much do you pay in child support?"

"330 dollars a month," I replied.

"And you have a Master's Degree? You can do better than that," he informed me.

The implication was that if I want to have more time with my kids then I need to make more money. The word "Bullshit" instinctively popped into my head - a word that was introduced into my vocabulary sometime in the mid 1970s - but I bit my tongue before the word had a chance to formulate past my lips.

If I was on the ball I might have tried to explain to this judge that as a grade school teacher in a school district that has 20% of its population living below the poverty level I don't get paid a whole hell of a lot of money. I suppose I could take my Master's degree in writing and apply to a marketing firm and write magazine ads that convince teenage girls that they are fat and ugly and that unless they purchase Whatever corporate cosmetics/diet pills, etc. that I'm peddling then they will always remain fat, ugly and worthless.  If I did that then I could make ten times more money than I do now, so would the judge consider me to be "doing better than that" then?

But I wasn't on the ball, the only word that came to mind was simply "Bullshit!"
Bullshit because I'm stuck in a legal system that promotes the practice of "buying parenting time".
Bullshit because if being a good father was solely based on how much money you make, then Saddam Hussein would have been fricking father of the year!
And Bullshit because the judge knew I was a good father. He proclaimed such in our Custody Order. He declared that he could tell I was a good father from my testimony during the custody trial.  I produced 5 witnesses who testified on my behalf (not to mention the several letters from friends and family I presented). Even my ex-wife's lawyer admitted I was a good father. In fact the only one who didn't seem to know this was my ex-wife.

The word "bullshit" actually comes to my mind quite regularly. If you ever spend any length of time with me, say 24 hours or so, you will certainly hear the word "Bullshit" from me--or possibly "Horseshit" or maybe even "Goatshit". Recently I spent 8 consecutive days with my kids, just them and me (plus two days with my parents). I don't know how many times I said "Bullshit" in front of them. Probably at least a dozen times. The first few times I caught myself immediately and then used distractions to divert attention away from the word. But after awhile, I just let it roll. Most of the time, this word came out up while I was watching an NFL game and a commercial a mind-numbingly stupid commercial would pop up - for instance those psychotically gay sing-along commercials for TJ Max which look exactly like the psychotically gay sing-along commercials for some airline, where people are skipping down the streets with acoustic guitars and doing backflips because the consumer product they are touting is so fucking great. I mean honestly, how am I supposed to watch this interuption without grunting "Bullshit"?

So... on Christmas day, my five year old son Jack opened up some Star Wars flying dragon action figure thing-a-ma-jig and immediately wanted to play with it. This toy had some weird clear plastic shrink wrap material around it that most toys seem to have nowadays. This impenetrable packaging product (most likely developed by NASA) was stapled to a thin cardboard display to keep the cheapass action figure from moving around too much (presumably so that it won't breaking during shipping). Okay, but then there was also all of these tiny thin rubber bands holding the action figure even tighter in place.  And then, on top of that, were more plastic things that had screws in it which served no recognizable function what so ever. I tried wrestling with this thing for a second or two, then a second or two more and then after about 3 minutes I must have looked like I wanted to smash this plastic piece of shit against Santa's fat ass.  I looked at my son and said, "I'm gonna need a knife to open this."

"That's some bullshit," he replied.

Immediately I understood that he was right - it was some bullshit, especially from a 5 year old's worldview. But also from mine because if the corporation that mass produced this plastic piece of shit spent half as much time trying to make a quality product as it did shrink wrapping the packaging around it, then there would be no need for this see-through plastic shit in the first place. So it was bullshit. But 5 year olds (technically he was still just 4 years old at the time, since this was two weeks before his 5th birthday) aren't supposed to say words like "bullshit". Right?

So as a father it was my duty to explain to him why it was wrong for him to say 'Bullshit'. But then I paused... for I knew I'd also have to explain the "why" to him. Why is it wrong for a 5 year old to say the word "bullshit"?

Jack, like most 5 year olds who are trying to figure out the world around him, has a heightened curiousity about how and why things work.  He always asks for an explanation for everything and I've encouraged this curiousity, from the day he was born. So I feel a responsibility to provide him with workable answers to his questions. And this is where things get complicated.

cheap toys photo: toys toys.jpgThere was an incident that happened a few weeks earlier, while I was subbing for a 7th grade Math class, when a young lady who was being pestered by the boy sitting behind her said in a rather monotone manner, "Will you leave me the fuck alone?" within earshot not only of myself, but the teacher's aid who was also in the classroom. I looked at the aid to see if she heard this and she looked at me the same way. So I quietly asked the girl, "What did you just say?"

Over my two years of substitute teaching I have found it handy to create a list of 8 rules that I write on the board of every classroom I teach. Rule #4 is "No Disrespectful Language". Whenever a student breaks this rule (or any of the others) I will have them write out the rules on a piece of paper, sign it and then hand it to me. But the policy for dealing with students who drop the "F" bomb at the particular school I was at on this day was to send the offender directly to the office - where they would get in-school suspension for the rest of the day.

The problem was that, this kid who was pestering this girl had come in late, then he made some smart ass comments, refused to do his classwork and was basically disrupting the class non-stop. This girl on the other hand was fairly mild-mannered and well liked with the other students. In fact, when I asked her "What did you just say?" and she inevitably answered "Nothing," three or four students around her came to her defense.  "She didn't say nothing" they repeated (totally disregarding rule #2 on Mr. Wagemann's Classroom Rules which is "No lying").


Part of the torment I go though in deciding how to father my kids comes from the fact that while growing up I never had a father to set an example. My own father left when I was 3 years old. I didn't see him again until I was 9. He rolled up to our apartment one day in a red VW Beetle talking about baseball and promising to take my younger brother and me to McDonalds for a frickin' Happy Meal. My Brother started crying and my father left again. Over the next ten years my father marginally popped into our lives in bi-monthly intervals, but I never thought of him as a father. I never called him dad. I called him by his first name, and I still do.

Instead of getting my notions about what a father is from my actual father, I mostly relied on TV sitcoms from the 1980s. The ideal father to me was a cross between Michael J. Fox's father on Family Ties and Bill Cosby on The Cosby's. The thing that made these two examples of the "ideal" father was simply that their kids knew that they were always there for them. By this token, this definition, I currently am Not an ideal father. I have visitation with my kids every other weekend, plus every Wednesday afternoon. As it stands now if my son gets picked on by a bully on a Thursday morning, I will not be there for him until possibly Wednesday afternoon. Similarly if my daughter is feeling left out or unpopular at school, or having difficulty with her classwork, I might not ever know about it. I certainly won't know about it any sooner than the next time I see her, which could be a week later. Not only is this restrained visitation make it impossible to be an ideal father, it makes it impossible to have any real clear idea about what is going on in my children's lives. So when a so-called "progressive" middle-aged Cook county circuit court judge tells me he is denying my kids the right to have an involved father, and engaged father, because I don't make enough money, there really is only one word that fits: "Bullshit!"


Since I work with kids everyday, I'm not oblivious to the argument for not letting kids say cuss words. Using cuss words in many cases is a form of being disrespectful. And I certainly don't want to encourage that. But at the same time cuss words do exist. The word "Bullshit" DOES exist. And it is a word that I myself find rather handy at times. Cuss words--or curse words--have been developed by societies and cultures to help us express ourselves more accurately and communicate more efficiently. Today, in our current age of information, expressing yourself more accurately and efficiently is more important than ever. So why should we censor a word that can actually help people better understand one another?

When my son looked at his Star Wars action figure things imprisoned in that plastic packaging and uttered, "That's some bullshit," his instincts were right. Telling him that he was expressing himself wrong could have sent him the message that his instincts were wrong.  In other words, by trying to censor him, THAT would actually be a form of bull shitting him. And I don't want to bullshit my own kids. I mean some bullshitting is okay of course, like telling him there is a Santa Claus and an Easter bunny and a tooth fairy, but...

When I was a kid I could not have gotten away with saying 'fart' to an adult, let alone 'bullshit' or heaven forbid the f-bomb. So I had to create backhanded ways of expressing the impact of these words without actually using them. I'll never forget my eureka moment during a 7th grade Social Studies class when our teacher introduced the class to the term shiite muslim. Shiite? That sounds almost like shit! It's even almost spelled like shit! And it dawned on me that, Ah-hah, I can say the word shiite when I actually want to say shit and technically--technically I couldn't get in trouble for it. So that afternoon during baseball practice, with a group of a half dozen adults mulling about behind the dugout, when a team mate smacked a long drive into right field and the ball nearly bonked another teammate on the head, I shouted out, "Holy Shiite Muslim--heads up Skippy!" The gaggle of adults actually laughed. This just might work, I reasoned, and from then on the term "Holy Shiite" became a regular part of my pre-teen venacular. Today, many moons later, I see the pre-teen kids I tech doing something similar, calling each other "Little Fockers" after the popular movie of the same name. Maybe the lesson is this: Kids will always find a way to say cuss words (or at least find a way to torment adults).

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