I found it in my daughter’s bathroom drawer: a small cut-out of a brightly colored cartoon character she had drawn. I smiled, thinking that beneath the teenaged exterior there still existed a little girl. Then I noticed the caption –

“&*$% off!”

So much for my little girl.

In my teens and through my twenties, I was a connoisseur of curse words, peppering my speech with profanity (the longer, the better) for both impact and shock value. It is unsettling to hear a fresh faced young southern girl in a button down and penny loafers toss out a four-letter word as easily as she says the word “please”.

Then we had children and suddenly cursing became taboo, and so I spelled things out. The effect was the same, the damage to my sweet baby’s ears was minimal. Until she learned to spell. Then it became a question of how creative could I get? Thanks to Spongebob, ‘tartar sauce!’ replaced ‘&*#$!(* it!’. ‘Good gravy!’ became part of the lexicon. We took it so far as to banish the word ‘fart’ from our house. FART became the f-word, things could no longer ‘suck’, no longer could we call upon our deity in times of traffic frustration.

We were pure, unsullied, untouched by the common and coarse language of our youth.

And then, our oldest became a teenager. Suddenly, a well placed curse word became a tool. It shocked her, impressed her, horrified her. It made us cooler, and a little scarier, and made us all feel like we were letting her into a secret world, one full of grown ups and bull*&%(.

When I was elementary school, we lived on a cul-de-sac that intersected a street named Drumheller. The more daring kids (usually boys) would climb on each other’s shoulders and cover DRUM and ER, leaving only HELL exposed. It seemed scintillating, a precursor to everything we knew to be bad, like cigarettes and sex. This was the late 70s and early 80s, when rules were clearly defined and supervising your children meant seeing them at some point during the day. Surely things have changed since then.

“You know kids at school curse,” my husband said. I didn’t think so. Clearly, they heard things in PG-13 movies and occasionally from their parents, but they weren’t saying it themselves. “You seriously think she’s never said a curse word?”, he asked. Of course not! She is my sweet little girl and filthy language would never pass through her lips.

I looked at the little cartoon character, brightly colored with crayon, suggesting that I “&*%( off!” I texted my husband in a panic. “She has your sense of humor!” he replied. Without even thinking, my fingers flew in response –

“*&%( off!”