It’s lunchtime and we’re just settling into a booth at Frankie & Benny’s when I make the mistake of the decade. I say:
‘Okay, while we’re waiting for the lady to take our orders, why don’t we play….FAVOURITES! Right, kids: who are your favourite….er….Disney Princesses!’
My son (7) rolls his eyes and says: ‘Booooring, but I guess I’d go for Aurora, because she was cool in that film where the evil queen had the horn.’
I smile a bit awkwardly, as I know what he means but can’t help focus on what he’s actually saying. Then, the screechy voice of my daughter (3) interrupts my train of thought.
She says, quite loudly: ‘I love Supunzel because her hair is full of shit.’
The couple at the table next to ours give a bit of a giggle, but I shake my head and offer a stern expression….offset by the fact that both my children are looking at me with very serious, earnest expressions.
‘Please don’t say ‘shit’ – it’s a bad word, and Sapun – I mean Rapunzel – has beautiful hair, and it’s not full of anything.’
‘The prince climbs up the shit into her hair, daddy.’
Now my son is laughing, but she’s said it twice and I’m getting a bit cross.
‘Shit is a bad word,’ I warn her. ‘There are lots of bad words, and one of them – are you listening to me – is SHIT. Do you understand? SHIT is a swear word.’
It’s then that I realize both children are looking past my shoulder. I turn to see a waitress who, judging from her expression, thinks I’m teaching my ridiculously small children how to say horrible words.
‘Sorry,’ I say, feeling my face flush. ‘Could you come back in a few minutes?’
She hurries away, which is when two loud and burly young guys come through the main door behind the booth, pushing and shoving each other in a jokey way. One is a big guy, the other very skinny. The big guy, quite oblivious to the fact that there are children just out of his field of vision, says to his mate:
‘You’re such a dick.’
His friend shoves him back, and replies: “I’m a dick? You’re a fat c*nt.”
They both laugh, but I’m not looking at them: I’m looking – with horror – at my children.
Thankfully, my son is engrossed in the menu…..but my daughter says: ‘What’s a fat c*nt?’
I glare at her. ‘We do NOT say that word in this family.’
‘Is that boy a fat c*nt, daddy?’
The two boys, who suddenly realize that there are small children close to them, immediately move away, laughing nervously but digging at each other for being stupid.
I turn back to my daughter, but my son gets to her first.
‘You DON’T say that word!’ he shouts. ‘You are too little to say that word, and it’s really, REALLY mean.’
I am quickly overcome by a feeling of incredible pride: he’s seven years old, and some kids of his age would think that swearing was cool.
Then things get a bit complicated.
‘They told us all about it at gymnastics,’ he says, pointing an accuasatory finger at his sister. ‘It’s a horrible word and it’s mean, mean mean,’ he says. ‘You should never, ever call anybody fat. That boy over there is a LARGE c*nt.’
‘NO!’ I practically shout, causing several couples to turn around.
‘Is he a large c*nt, daddy?’ asks my daughter.
My son doesn’t say anything, but looks suddenly confused.
‘Listen,’ I say, lowering my voice to a whisper. ‘Fat is a horrible word, but c*nt in worse. There are some words you just don’t say – even as an adult – and c*nt is one of them. I’m serious: of all the swearwords, C*NT is the worst.’
The children are looking past me again, and this time I don’t even look around. I know the waitress is there again and I know exactly what she’s just heard, so I just take a deep breath and say:
‘Sorry, love, can you just give us a few more minutes? I’m trying to teach my kids something really important.’
She looks at me as if I’m the scum of the earth.