A Parent’s Begrudging Capitulation to Self-Censorship
It was a dreary day but we’d managed to get out of the house on time. For once, the toddler wasn’t going to be late for her playgroup.
We walked up to the community center and pulled on the door. It was locked so we went to another door, which was also locked. Then it started to rain.
“Daddy,” my two and half-year-old started, “The goddamn door is locked.”
I was shocked. Not because of the language she used but because she’d used an expletive perfectly. She’d never done this before.
It also dawned on me that it was time to dial back something utterly essential to me: expletives. More specifically, I had to limit my freedom of speech and expression. I had to be a more responsible parent.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of Expression. I love them. I need them. We need them. They’re necessary for a free society to flourish. We can’t be free, nor can we be truly tolerant, if they do not exist.
If our thoughts and ideas, brilliant or otherwise, cannot be freely expressed, then we cannot learn to live in tolerance of the mutually idiotic things we say.
Especially the idiotic things I say.
Without this sense of tolerance wafting through our society, we become repressed. In our repression, our internal prejudices grow in forced silence. Our true thoughts reside and fester until it’s safe for us to unload. The clamps come off and there we go—probably at inopportune times.
At the school park with your toddler after a rough day…
“Ow! What the fuck is that doing here?”
A family gathering over the holidays after a few drinks…
“The [insert political party or lobbying group] is full of narrow-minded assholes.”
“Yeah well, [insert name of person, place, or thing] is a shitting idiot.”
“I can’t believe that goddamn fuck. What a shit-for-brains!”
At a bar, when the noise level inconveniently drops…
“[An offensive joke].”
Sure the things you say might make you sound like a jerk, a bleeding heart whatever. Perhaps they expose your ignorance or innate bias, but we can’t deny ourselves these necessary moments of expression. Freedom of expression makes our id feel good and relieves internal pressure that may threaten spontaneous bouts of apoplexy.
Defining and protecting this social liberty has been a struggle for humanity in the last few hundred years and we don’t always get it right. It’s still evolving today. Being social creatures, we rage against the idea of being controlled and not having our voices heard.
All this free speech is entwined to our concept of free will — a free will that exists despite the fact that our environment is always manipulating us. So really, free will is an illusion?
Wait! What? Nevermind that. Let’s skip that tangent. This isn’t a philosophy class.
Even though our id is somewhat reactive and capricious, its absolute repression is dangerous. It’s even dangerous to completely repress the more manageable ego and superego. History is full of tragic examples, but I won’t list them here (this post is hardly about facts; it’s about feelings).
So expression, and by extension speech, must be free.
“I can believe that goddamn fuck!”
Uh oh! The little human tape recorder is, once again, following me. She usually is when I lapse from self-censorship to absolute free speech. These kids are ninjas when they want to be, sneaking up on unsuspecting parents.
Children are the real reason for any parent’s self-imposed, but occasionally unheeded, censorship. The begrudgingly bitten tongue of any parent who worries that their child might, in the presence of other adults, inform another child that that toy is “fucking hers”, is indeed swollen.
Parents the world over have sounded silly, and continue to do so, in the midst of strangers in public for the sake of their child’s looser, unpredictable tongue.
Trust me on this. If you’re childless and think we sound ridiculous when we talk to our kids in public, parents are pretty well aware of how they sound.
However, in our efforts to restrict the freedoms a bloodied human history has fought so hard to grant us, parents become more dynamic users of their native tongue. Innovators really.
“Oh, shoes! I messed up.”
“Holy fudging fart.”
“Giant hairy balls!”
“Ah! Crushed nuts to infinity…”
“Holy Moses’s burning bush!”
At the highest levels of language repression, parents invent words and speak in tongues:
“Dang it! Shummalumadingdong.”
“NanananananAAAAA! Don’t touch that!”
“BabagaDADADADUDDLYDA! Shizzle (for a stubbed toe)!”
My grandmother would’ve been proud of that last one. No one was as creative with language as she was.
Yet, sometimes our creative use of language doesn’t always turn the release valve as far as it should go. Which is what makes social media so useful. Isn’t that right stay-at-home mom with 2+ masters degrees? How about you stay-at-home dad who should be doing dishes?
Hey, the dishes are done, man.
What’s that you say? The toddler isn’t standing behind me?
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