“Sh*t,” Whispers Child
New era of language begins as Legos spill
For the most part, I say “shit” when I am driving. A drunk guy on a Citibike emerges from between two random parked cars—shit. A car swerves in front of me—shit. Laurea merges into an exit lane more quickly than I expected—shit. All this, along with various stubbed toes, has given Kina some very specific insight into what you’re supposed to say when things go wrong (or nearly wrong).
So, lately, when things have gone wrong for Kina, she knows exactly how to respond. Spilled box of Legos—shit. Daddy stubs his toe—shit. Water tips over in the car—a quiet, whispered “shit”.
I don’t much care whether or why Kina curses, because “shit” isn’t really that powerful a curse, and these words are ultimately just words, but it’s notable that she’s discovered the power of this particular word, which I can tell because she never shouts it out loud, only ever uttering it sotto voce, like an incantation. “Shit” is a moment, not an event.
“Shit” is a word that gives adults ready access to an extraordinary emotional space beyond the visible spectrum that they make available to Kina. She knows that my use of that word means that I’m unaware of her being there, and that her hearing it means she’s bearing witness to something that kids aren’t ready for—not just the utterance of the word, but the scary, frustrating, or painful event that prompts its use. She knows, in some way, that the version of the world I allow her to see and understand is limited, and curses demarcate its boundaries in some ways. She’s looking over those fences now, or at least directly at the fences, and you can see that those observations are powerful for her.
What does this forbidden fruit mean for her? Now that she knows that “shit” is out there, she knows that I’m not all-powerful. She knows that there are things that are out of my control, unexpected, undesirable, and survivable. She may think that those tragedies are somehow averted or relieved by the utterance of a curse. She may, in some way, believe it instead to be a blessing. Far be it from me to deny her that blessing, and the power that comes with it. May she use it wisely, quietly, and to the furtherance of justice.