No one ever said raising two kids in New York City — even the comparatively sanitized and soulless New York City of 2015 — was going to be easy. Sure, loads of my friends decamped to greener, leafier suburban enclaves soon after procreating, but not us. My wife and I — much to the consternation of friends and family — decided to tough it out. We loved our lives here in Manhattan. Hell, I was born and raised here in New York City, and the place was a HELL of a lot less welcoming back then. I survived. Provided we can afford to stay (never a given — especially these days), our kids will survive it, too.
In any case, raising two kids in the city means exposing them — for better or worse — to all the sights, sounds and smells of these Manhattan streets. Hey, if you live in a verdant Westchester hamlet, you probably don’t have to worry about your kids sharing the pavement with on-the-nod junkies, street hustlers, charity-muggers or bug-eyed lunatics. Here in the city, though, that’s just part of the experience. I’d like to think my children have already accrued a degree of street-smarts by this stage in their respective lives, but the salient points are always worth reinforcing.
But while I may be able to instruct and/or advise them on how to behave in certain situations or — more importantly — how to avoid worst-case scenarios, I cannot filter what they see and/or what they hear on the street. The argument could be made that I shouldn’t try to control those things (especially if I’m pig-headed enough to insist on raising my kids here), but there are elements of the experience that I’d just as soon they not have to contend with at this comparatively early stage of the proceedings. But the city is going to be the city, regardless of my preference.
By way of example, I was walking with my two kids up Fourth Avenue just the other day and we passed by a certain structure on the southeast corner of East 10th Street that used to be a corner deli, but is now seemingly a derelict, abandoned space waiting to be developed. In this fallow state, it is routinely covered with posters, bills, street art and graffiti. I actually kind of like its aesthetic, despite the fact that I miss the deli. The problem here, however, is that on the western-facing facade of this structure is a giant, hard-to-miss wheat-pasted sign that boldly proclaims in block capital letters that “COST FUCKED MADONNA.” Great. Thanks for that.
Overlooking, for the moment, the dubious achievement the signage is trumpeting, I live in constant dread of one of my kids spying it and reciting its message out loud (as they are wont to do when spotting something that catches their curiosity). I’m relatively certain they’ve heard the “f-word” before, but I’d rather not elevate it into their ever-growing vocabulary before its inevitable time. But big signs that say FUCK on them undermine that. While vainly trying to distract them, I caught sight of a sticker affixed to a stop sign on the corner offering the following legend: “ASSCANCER: FUCK NEW YORK.” Again, thanks for that.
The things they’re liable to hear on the street aren’t much better. We were on a bus not too long back with two loud, foul-mouthed teenage girls sitting behind this. It was all “bitch” this, “motherfucker” that, punctuated cloyingly with a volley of needless “like”s (just as bad as profanity, as far as I’m concerned). I just find that depressing, let alone annoying.
Before I start to sound too prudish, I’d like to re-assert that I like my New York City rough and tumble. The fact that there’s still an unruly element of vociferous attitude left in the city is almost heartening. That said, slack-jawed idiocy is slack-jawed idiocy, and I don’t have the patience for it. While I’m not going to turn around and entreat every potty-mouth with a teary-eyed declaration that “THERE ARE CHILDREN PRESENT!,” I’m never going to applaud the wanton, careless obscenity. Even if I’m on my own, hearing some whistlehead rattle of a litany of words like “fuck,” “cunt,” “pussy,” “motherfucker,” “bitch,” “dick,” etc. is never going to make my day.
Sure, I’m a pretentious, needlessly verbose, self-appointed wordsmith, but wouldn’t you prefer that to the oafish lexicon of the lowest common denominator? I’m certainly no stranger to saying derisive, disparaging things about my fellow man, but when I do, I tend to choose my words with a bit more colorful aplomb than merely apply the same old tired, hackneyed epithets. You may think terms like “motherfucker” or “fucking asshole” are suitably harsh, but believe me — there are far more potent things you can say without ever having to resort to the weathered playbook of the potty-mouthed. There’s a distinct joy to be found in being eloquently vulgar that I highly recommend.
But I’m no saint. I don’t even live up to my own standards. Peruse back through any number of posts here, and you’ll doubtlessly find a few cuss-words that wouldn’t feel out of place on the men’s room wall. I’m liable to let rip a stream of profanity if I’m frustrated enough. Back in 2006, I penned a post here filled with unsolicited advice for fathers-to-be, saying they should swear frequently before having kids to get it out of their system. I’d love to say I led by example, but I’ve uttered several bad words in front of my kids. I’m not proud of it, but it’s happened.
So that has brought me here. Combining my disdain for needless and unimaginative profanity, my futile hope to shield my kids from lazy, dirty vocab and my aspiration to cultivate a more refined self, I am hereby swearing off further, needless swearing. Feel free to fine me next time you hear me drop an f-bomb.
And I dare you to try it, too, you filthy-tongued fuckers.