“Get Your Ass Off My Patio!” by Elizabeth Deroshia
This story appears in the anthology “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Parent.”
Justice has been writing his letters since the beginning of preschool and has just recently begun forming words. “Wow, mom, dad, on, no, yes, and go” are among his somewhat limited repertoire. I am so proud to see him embracing language and recognizing words I could just burst. And I nearly did burst one Saturday morning when I opened my kitchen door and found the word “Ass” written in rough kid-letters all over my patio.
Justice had really been going to town with the sidewalk chalk. There were stick people with bubbles coming out of their mouths, uttering only, “Ass.” There were entire towns labeled “Ass,” and even a dog with an arrow pointing to his butt, appropriately indicating where his “Ass” was.
I gasped. My instinct was to launch into a “That’s a dirty word!” tirade. But Justice was so proud of his work, I just couldn’t bring myself to kill his buzz, especially when he said, “Look Mommy! I wrote ‘Ass’!”
I didn’t know where he had seen the word spelled out, but I was quite sure he had heard it plenty at home and on the TV shows I failed to monitor like the improper mother I am. I didn’t want to scold him, lest I discourage his interest in the written word. I mean, he could be the next Shakespeare, for all I knew. On the other hand, I couldn’t let him think it was OK to go around writing “Ass” on everything.
“That’s great, buddy! You spelled it just right! But you know, that isn’t a nice word,” I started to lecture.
“I know Mommy, but I can spell the whole thing: A-S-S. See?”
“Yes, I see, and that is GREAT spelling and you did a SUPER job writing the letters, but I don’t think ‘ass’ is a nice word. Can Mommy show you how to write something else?” As I turned the asses on my patio into “grass,” “pass,” “sass,” “mass,” and in a burst of creativity, “assemble,” the disappointment on Justice’s face told me I had missed the point.
I am never one to thwart creative expression, but there has to be a line, doesn’t there? I can’t have graffiti on my patio no matter how harmless the intent. This is one of the more difficult hurdles I’ve encountered in the parenting business. I am supposed to be the authority (ha ha), I’m supposed to be in charge, and yet, I don’t have an answer for everything, much less a correct answer for everything. I know how my parents would have handled it if I went around writing “ass” willy-nilly all over—with a swift smack in the, well, ass.
Personally, I take a more passive approach to discipline, especially when it comes to language usage. I was an English major, as was my hubby, so we both recognize the incredible power of words, and yet we both believe that words only have the meaning and importance that we assign to them. We let Justice watch the television shows The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad, with a quick discussion that he can only watch if he promises not to repeat the “bad” words, especially at school. He has agreed to those terms, and so far the only naughty words he has let fly have been flown in the safety and comfort of our home.
I realize this laissez faire attitude isn’t right for everyone, but it works at our house . . . I thought it did anyway, until the ass came. Well, at least he can’t write “Kiss My” yet, I thought as I rinsed the last ass off with the garden hose. But seriously, how long would it be until he was scribbling all kinds of filth around the neighborhood? What if he went to our friends’ house and defaced their patio? Heaven forbid!
Maybe I should make a more conscientious effort to watch my language. I can’t even get away with saying “Oh fudge” anymore because it prompts Justice to say, “Did you mean the F word, Mommy?” He is able to exercise some discretion at this age though, and he wasn’t able to do that until recently. It is pretty sobering to hear your foul-ups come out of the mouth of a three-year-old, that’s for sure.
I remember one particular incident when we were having an Easter brunch at the preschool and Justice and I were sitting with other students, some parents and several very serious-looking grandparents. We were all engaged in polite conversation when the grandmother heard Justice babbling about the new puppies we had just gotten. They were two little hounds that wreaked havoc in my life on an hourly basis, messing up the clean floor, digging under the fence and chewing on my furniture. “What are their names?” the sweet old lady inquired.
“Their names are SpongeBob and Patrick, but my mom calls them ‘The Little Bastards,’ ” he informed her matter-of-factly. I thought about trying to play this off as some kind of speech impediment, but it was too late. I was busted. I downed my punch with record speed and inwardly cursed the teacher for not having the mercy to toss some vodka in the stuff. I felt like a real ass. And I swore I would watch my mouth from that day forth.
No, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know why the sky is blue or how many stars there are in the universe or where your lap goes when you stand up. I’m just flying by the seat of my pants most of the time. But I do know I don’t want my kid to be the one with the perpetual chocolate-milk mustache and language that resembles actor-comedian Richard Pryor more than children’s show host Mr. Rogers. So I’ve decided that the next time any graffiti shows up, we will just have a very stern talk about what we can and cannot write—pending penalty of . . . oh, I don’t know what, but something serious. Seriously. You can bet your ass on it.
Elizabeth Deroshia lives in Athens, Georgia with her muse, Justice, now 12. Earning her English degree from UGA spoiled her for work in the “real world,” so she continues to pursue freelance writing jobs, higher education and spending time with her extended family, a constant source of comical writing material.
Again, this story appears in “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Parent.” The book is filled with 68 entertaining stories about parenting and raising kids. Purchase this book today from your favorite retailer, Amazon (http://amzn.to/1rttaBF) or Barnes & Noble (http://bit.ly/11EGnCl).
To submit your stories for consideration in future NYMB titles, go to http://www.PublishingSyndicate.com and click on the “Not Your Mother’s Book” tab.