I’ve got words that do not come from children’s books

Bonus points for people who recognize the song lyric in the title.

Sage was so proud to have been promoted in reading level recently, that she has been asking to read out loud to me, which I love. Last night she pulled a book from her backpack and asked again.

“It’s not level L/M, Mom…it’s a level K book. I can shop for level M books but this is K. It’s still hard. Is that okay?” Well of course it’s okay. My feeling is reading is reading, and if she likes the story, then there’s plenty of time for Cam Jansen and Dostoyevsky later. Apologies, Tiger Moms.

I dutifully listened for oh, the first 20 pages or so about the High Rise Private Eyes and blahblah blah lalalalaa something about a caper. No idea whatsoever. I’m sure it was very exciting but my attention was elsewhere, I admit. Until Sage blurted out one of the passages:

High Rise Private Eyes Level K - Mom-101

“I need help. Because I’m FUCKING reading.”

And I uh…


I was fairly certain that her first grade book baggie didn’t contain anything with the phrase I’m fucking reading. But hey, it’s Brooklyn. We like to think of ourselves as very progressive, so who knows.

We looked at the page together to see if we could tell just what that word really was. I wasn’t mad at all, yet I could already see tears starting to well up in her eyes like they do any time she is wracked with inner guilt about something.

We found the sentence.


“I’m FLUNKING reading,”  I read to her. “He is flunking reading. That means to fail. He needs help because he is failiing reading”

And I showed her why it was so easy to confuse two words that look similar when you read too quickly, the same way she read “eskimo” as “equilateral.” (A mistake I was very proud of by the way.)

And that’s when she burst out in tears.

My sensitive little girl.

She clutched me so hard, filled with such shame and embarrassment and remorse I couldn’t believe it. She is so tough until she’s not. Just a few days away from her seventh birthday (eep), she has an enviably strong moral compass and very clear sense of right and wrong; it breaks her up when she thinks she’s erred in some unforgivable way. Even if it’s entirely, wildy forgivable. Even if only she knew that accidentally blurting out a curse word is about the least of a mother’s worries when raising girls.

So we cuddled and I told her about the time my brother, about three, calmly said, “Fuck” to my father. When my dad asked him where he learned that, expecting Jeff to name the older neighbor kids across the street, he quietly pointed to me and said, “Lizzie.” I was five.

Or there was the time that Thalia, about two, yelled, JESUS! JESUS CHRIST, MOM! And that’s when I knew it was time to start watching my language around my kids.

I reassured her that every parent has a funny story like this about their child, and I promised her she’d laugh about it later. Or…now. Because soon we were laughing together.

“I wasn’t mad, Sage. Promise. I was just was wondering, what kind of book would have a word like that in it!”

“Well Mom,” she said very seriously. “It is Level K.”


19 thoughts on “I’ve got words that do not come from children’s books”

  1. Oh!! Oh oh oh. So sweet and funny. How do we teach kids to let go of the shame of embarrassment? I’m asking for real, because I don’t think I have ever figured it out.

    1. Oh man Deb, I wish I knew. She’s the kind of kid who can grab a karaoke mic and perform in a cowgirl-mermaid outfit for a whole room…but is filled with embarrassment if she does something she thinks is ethically or morally inappropriate. I just remind her we all make mistakes and this is a very very small one. It’s just a word, and one said accidentally at that. I am open to other ideas though. I’d love her not to feel that so strongly, though maybe it’s the kind of thing that makes her her.

      Either way, I find it so sweet that she took it so seriously. I mean, it’s not like I’m G-rated every minute of every day myself.

      1. I feel like it has something to do with understanding that you are intrinsically lovable; your small mistakes and idiosyncrasies don’t change that basic truth. But again, I haven’t figured it out for myself and I’m almost 40. So.

  2. I love this. My daughter just graduated to level M too.

    And we had a moment a while back when my son was doing that thing when a kid sings all the words of a song starting with the same letter. It was “Fire Truck…”


  3. Oh, my gosh what a sweetheart. That would have been my son, who is sensitive and easily embarrassed sometimes and never wants to disappoint me. (Level K, indeed. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds important.)

    The way we talk about swear words in our house is I explain to the kids they are really sort of a way of being superstitious, because they don’t mean anything worse than anything else, we just decide certain ways of saying things are more offensive for effect. So no words are off limits at home because there is nothing that will bother me, but they should be aware that they should not repeat certain words in front of other people if they don’t want to upset them. We essentially sucked all the danger out of those words which gives them no appeal, and my kids never say them. (This is slightly different from the way we’ve talked to them about words used in hate speech, but that’s a different topic.)

    1. I think that’s a really awesome approach Korinthia. I said something about it being a bad word and immediately regretted it because a word is a word as you’re saying…although I have told them about things that are appropriate at home (like butt jokes) and not at school or in public. You are smart!

      1. Korinthia,
        We have the same approach at our house. No “bad” words, but our daughter has learned that there are words she can use at home, but not a good idea to use at school or daycare, friend’s house, etc. She’s also extremely sensitive and really doesn’t ever say them anyway (she is 6). Hope I’ll be able to say the same in 10 years! 😉

        1. We do the same thing, following George Carlin’s dictum, “There are no bad words, just bad people.” 😉 I was secretly delighted when my daughter pulled that one out at preschool on a teacher who was talking about “bad” words.

          But, she’s also highly empathetic and we talk about how words, used at the wrong time and with the wrong people, can hurt people’s feelings, so there are some words that it’s best that little kids not say because they haven’t learned the right/wrong times to use them yet. And so far, she’s been really good in not using curse words (although I was scolded once while driving for hurting the other driver’s feelings!).

  4. Aw, one of my kids is like that too. He’s very sensitive and hates to think he’s in trouble.

    Well the other day my son asked, “What’s ‘friggin’? Like when you said, ‘Where are the friggin’ spoons?” Woops. Time to watch my language.

    1. It’s like you want to say, “uh..it means pretty.” But then you know you’ll get a call from a playdate’s mom telling you that he told her “I like your friggin’ dress.”

  5. This story made me laugh out loud at my desk. Now my coworkers think I’m weird, but that’s OK because I’m only working here for one more week and shortimers are known to get a little strange.

    My four year old says “God damn it!” just like her mother. I mean JUST like me. Inflection and all. She even uses it in the same sorts of situations as I do. We just burst out laughing the first time she did that, because it was so completely obvious where it came from.

  6. A favorite story in my family’s lore is the time my brother – three years old at the time – was playing with Lincoln Logs in the living room and burst out crying. When my mom asked him what was wrong, he said: “I can’t get the god damn roof to stay on!” My dad was the one in trouble that day.

  7. “…And everything I’ve got belongs to you!” I am happy to say I’ll have that song in my head the rest of the night! 🙂

    I love that she took it so seriously! My kids are like that too.

    We’ve been explaining to the kids that some words are just for adults to use, and some are just for adults and teenagers or older kids to use (like “shut up”). We also have a category of words we “try not to say” (like butt–we try to say bottom instead). That’s how we’re hoping to keep them from being embarrassed but also keep them from saying inappropriate words.

    I’ve worked hard to clean up my potty mouth (at home, at least), and I knew I was doing a good job recently when my son (almost 5) said god damn it and when I told him that he shouldn’t say that, he replied, “But daddy does!” Ha! Not me! Whew!

  8. Ah, this is such a heart-warming hilarious story! I love it. My now 8 year old, came home one day from 1st grade completely broken up because she overheard another student say “the ‘s’ word” to a teacher. She was nearly inconsolable about the whole episode and it wasn’t until pretty far into the evening that I learned that the “s” word had been “stupid!”

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