Last week I dropped the F-bomb for the first time with my son.
This is noteworthy not because I finally cursed in front of him, but rather because I’ve been able to hold out for so long. In general, I curse like a – I was going to say longshoreman, but the fact is, I curse like a girl raised in New Jersey. Which is to say, easily and often.
Every Monday, when I show up for my tennis clinic, I make the same resolution: “I will not curse on the court. Ever again.” I rarely make it through the warm up.
In doubles, we are taught to “call the ball” – meaning, if the ball is on your half of the court you’re to yell out “Mine!” (if you intend to hit it), or “Yours!” if it’s sailing over your head and you need your partner to chase it down. I try to comply, but whether I’m going for it, or I’ve been lobbed, my call is always the same.
The decision not to curse around my children was never very high-minded. I simply didn’t want them to grow up cursing, so I tried to model non-cursing behavior. This was easy except for two instances. 1. Whenever I drove the car. 2. The day my son became a middle schooler.
For a long time – years – I could feel the F-word creep up my throat and try and make its way out of my mouth, but I was able to fortify myself and hold back. Once, when my son was in 5th grade and had really tested my resolve, I said something like, “I’m so mad right now I just wanna curse you out.” And remarkably, that was good enough for both of us.
But the tide turned through the middle school years and I stopped biting my tongue over anything that you’d hear in a PG-13 movie. I still danced around the main event, with friggin’ this, or freakin’ that. But we all knew it was just a matter of time.
The experience itself reminded me of losing my virginity. It was a bigger deal in my mind than in actual fact. I got my son’s attention, yes. But the earth didn’t move off its axis. Two seconds later I was off yelling about something else.
I don’t really like that I curse. I admire people who can express themselves without resorting to profanity. (One of my tennis mates sounds like she’s about to curse when she misses a shot, but ends up with something Italian-sounding. “Oh focaccia!” she says under her breath.)
Today, my tennis friends and I went to lunch after our game. The restaurant was buzzing with older ladies – a long table full of women in their seventies. We recognized some of them as the women who play on the court next to ours. “Hi! Hi!” we said.
“I play on court five,” I said to one lovely, gray-haired lady. “I’m the one who curses a lot.”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “You need to learn some new words.”
Oh, geez. I honestly thought they couldn’t hear me. I certainly didn’t think they were paying attention. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“No,” she said. “I mean you need some better words. I saw that shot you missed. What came out of your mouth was pretty tame, considering.”
It took me a second to realize what was happening. The old woman was practically offering to teach me how to trash talk. She was probably a Jersey girl, too.