Whenever I’m angry or frustrated, I tend to say a very nasty, very ugly word.
Naturally, I say it often.
It starts with an ‘s’ and ends in a ‘t.’
I never really thought much of it, to be honest. It has always seemed harmless, even as an ordained minister. I mean, it’s just a word after all.
Then, in a fit of his own frustration, my son said it.
The moment I heard it, I was mortified.
I knew I’d have to clean up my language.
Immediately. That day.
“SHOOT!” my son shouted, loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
If only he’d said shit instead.
Sometimes the euphemism is worse than the original.
When we first became parents, my spouse and I decided we wouldn’t allow toy guns in our house. It was a decision that rankled some of our relatives, but, for us, it was nonnegotiable. Too many children, even in responsible and diligent families, accidentally shoot themselves or their siblings, and these incidents are vastly underreported, according to this heartwrending New York Times report from this week.
No guns. No shooting. Not even shooting noises. Not even with their fingers.
But I overlooked one thing: my language.
I had undermined my own parenting when it came to guns. I had wanted them to view guns as evil, meant for harm and hurting others, weapons of mass destruction.
Because that is exactly what they are.
And given that we have no need for a militia for our nation’s defense, I don’t consider it an inalienable right to bear the kind of arms only a mercenary or a mass murderer would need. And toy versions of those military-style guns are exactly what’s marketed to children.
But then every time I would get angry or frustrated — when I’m in traffic, when I stub my toe, when I’m in traffic, when I break a glass in the dishwasher, when I’m in traffic — I would let it slip.
Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!
It was my first instinct. And it became my children’s as well.
But I would much rather their first instinct, when angry or frustrated, to be a natural bodily function than an unnatural one.
I don’t want my children to learn to associate anger and frustration with the pulling of a trigger.
With letting fly a lethal bullet.
With lashing out.
I don’t solve my problems with violence, but every time I shouted, “Shoot!” when upset, I implied that I wanted to, deep down.
And, let’s be honest, shooting when angry is much, much worse than shitting when angry.
Thankfully, my children now know shoot is a bad word in our family. Whenever they catch me saying it, they call me on it, and I apologize. And I remind them that even though habits are hard to break, I’m not planning on saying that ugly, nasty word any more.
I’ll be saying shit instead.