Better Safe than Sorry

by Angela Doll Carlson June 05, 2013

The word was out of my mouth before I had a chance to think, before I had a chance to choose carefully another, more polite, more appropriate word. Something had fallen to the ground and shattered and it was late and I was tired. That is the entirety of my defense.

For so many years of my parenting I had done really well. I think it’s important that I mention how well I had been doing all those years because before I had children I had no qualms about swearing. I think it’s important to mention how many times I stifled those words after I became a parent, choking them back and swallowing them whole as though they were gristle I was commanded to eat. I told my children when they heard swear words from other people- on television or the Internet or on the playground- that using swear words was lazy. I told them I wanted them to work harder, to be more precise and to think before using those words. I told them that there were no “bad” words. There are no “bad” words, there are just words. Swear words are offensive to people-not all people and not all the time-but better to think first, better to be cautious, better safe than sorry.

It was a long day and the stress of parenting and partnering and life in general had worn a hole in me and when the crash came, that word came bounding out of that hole. It was anger and disappointment and resentment and injury. It was desperation. It was lazy and inappropriate and it felt so good in the moment. It felt so good I actually sat in the warm waters of that F-bomb for a full minute, taking it in, letting it float around the wide eyed, open mouth, completely aghast faces of my four children. The youngest, Miles, broke the silence. “Wow.”  The others clapped their hands over their mouths, their fingers stifling the nervous laughter only a little.

I shooed them out of the kitchen so that I could clean it all up and I chided myself inside, ashamed for breaking something I’d worked on for so long and with such intention. I called myself names in my head and I cried because I was still so tired, so frayed, worn through and filled with holes. That word had opened a kind of floodgate in me now all I wanted to do was swim upstream into the sea of condemnation and drown in my own failures. The voice in my head told me that I was a terrible mother.

The sweeping, vacuuming and mopping went on a long time. It had been a big vase and the crash spread the glass all through the kitchen and as far as the dining room.

The sweeping, vacuuming and mopping became a kind of Zen Garden exercise as it went on, gathering the pieces of me and putting me together again. I pondered my outburst letting go of each wave of anger and disappointment, resentment and injury as I brushed the broom and moved the mop, glass pieces clinking into the aluminum trashcan until I could no longer see glass glimmering on the hardwood floors.

Later that night I gathered the kids on the couch around me. The invitation to sit close to me was welcomed and they apologized profusely for the crash, for the glass, for the loss of the vase.  From deep in that group embrace Miles’ muffled voice broke through, “You said a bad word.”

I was tempted to tell them what a terrible mother I was, to admit my own failure and ask for their forgiveness for my transgressions but I realized something sitting there in the glow of the embrace, the effects of the sweeping and vacuuming and mopping Zen garden still fresh in me. The bad words aren’t the one I use to swear, they are the words I say that cut and tear my own flesh, they are the words I say to myself when I’m unhappy with how I look in a swim suit or how I act in a rough moment or when I am feeling the effects of my age in my skin, in my hair, in my head.

So I waited, measuring it well, not sure after all that an apology was what I wanted to give, not sure if I really was sorry.

“You’ll discover when you’re a grown up,” I said, “that sometimes in a hard moment, those are the best words you can muster. Sometimes that’s the word that comes out first. They are lazy and I wish I had been willing to say something else. I hope you’ll choose your words better than I did tonight when you’re frustrated and tired but when you’re a grown up, sometimes you won’t and that’s got to be okay once in a while, you know?” And while I don’t think he did know, he trusted me and we left it there, in the mix of arms and legs, in the embrace, in the quiet on the couch just before bedtime.


Angela Doll Carlson
Angela Doll Carlson

Author

Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Relief Journal Magazine, St. Katherine Review, Rock & Sling and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She has published two books, “Nearly Orthodox” and “Garden in the East.”



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