At one time, my five-year-old son was a fan of Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. He could belt out the entire chorus of Chou's Ting Mama De Hua (Listen To Your Mother) while using a tube of diaper cream as a mic.
The chorus is about paying heed to what your mother says and not hurting her. Because my son could sing it, I was hopeful that he would also internalise the values suggested by the lyrics and listen to what I said.
So, does he pay attention to my words? It depends. When I tell him to put away his Lego pieces so I won't step on them and injure my sole, no, he definitely does not listen.
But when I'm saying things that I do not want him to hear, yes. In fact, at times like those, he suddenly develops a superpower-like ability and can hear a whisper from about 800m away.
So certain words - candy, iPad, toyshop, YouTube - cannot even be whispered. These are trigger words that will potentially cause trouble in the form of, say, a tussle over whether he is allowed to eat sweets (Me: No. My son: I want, and I want them now).
My husband and I have taken to spelling out words that we don't want him to hear, such as: "You better put the c-h-o-c-s in the fridge before he sees them."
This method currently works because the boy cannot spell very well. But eventually, my husband and I will need a new code to prevent him from picking up banned words. Pig Latin? Orth-way a ought-thay.
What's harder to avoid saying are words and phrases that I thoughtlessly scatter about in everyday conversation, but which are considered impolite in civilised circles.
Like my current penchant for blurting out "your *beep* head ah" in response to silly things that people say to me.
My husband: "When are they going to promote you to become the editor?"
Me: "Your head ah!" (And sometimes spoken in Hokkien.)
And sometimes, my son asks me ridiculous questions that are devised to get a maximum rise out of me, like: "Can I eat 1,098 sweets?" To which I'll retort: "What are you, crazy?"
This makes him laugh, which I take to mean he understands I am not actually verbally abusing him.
(And before I get angry mail saying that I should answer him properly so that he will learn the right things and so on, I need to point out that he jolly well knows why he cannot eat "1,098 sweets". To begin with, I do not have 1,098 sweets at home.)
One night last week, I was chilling on a rocking chair when he came up to me and said: "Mummy! Are you crazy? Your head ah!"
I nearly tipped over on the chair.
"Oy!" I snapped. "Cannot say that!"
He giggled. He had provoked a huge reaction from me. Achievement unlocked!
I tried to salvage the situation by telling him that things like these can be said only by adults, not young children. He immediately interpreted this as a cue to say more of these words, and louder.
Oops, bad move.
I shouldn't even be saying rude things in front of him anyway. But for a long while, he didn't echo the things I said, so I got deluded into thinking that he wasn't picking these things up and that it's safe to say whatever I liked.
I do realise, now, that little ears are always listening, even if the child is pretending to be oblivious.
Therefore, I need to stop saying rude things.
(My husband, too, is not entirely averse to the use of mild profanities. But to protect his image, all I will say is, our son seems to prefer imitating my potty mouth than his.)
So, no more saying "your head lah" and other things that will cause civilised people distress.
Experts have suggested that every time parents feel like saying something rude or nasty, they should replace it with a more socially acceptable word.
Something like saying "oh fudge!" when you really want to break out the more infamous f-word.
Not such a freaking bad idea, I think.
Wait, did I just say that? What I meant was, have a nice day!
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