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Modern Parenthood

Sorority e-mail writer, N.D. news anchorman: They needed mom's swear jar

The sorority e-mail writer and a news anchorman from North Dakota learned swearing just once could have you losing for life. Bring out the swear jar, parents. 

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That is all she told me at that time. The following story comes from the aforementioned contrite and swear-free editor who answered my return call. The story requires a moment of background.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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This editor habitually called with a greeting that was never, “hello,” but a rapid-fire, no breaths or prisoners bark full of F-bomb adjectives.

Mom and I have almost identical “phone voices” and her hello triggered the floodgates of salty greeting when the editor rang me up that morning.

The editor moaned: "I swore at your mother! How upset is she? What did she say?”

Even now I remember the icy trickle down my spine as he unfolded the story in technicolorful language and detail. We had a “curse jar” in our house, and allowance would be eaten alive by it if you uttered a profanity. Today, in our house, cursing gets you more chores, and if you swear while doing them, the chores multiply like rabbits.

Back to the editor’s call where, apparently, Mom listened and listened and then took a few breaths before saying to him, in what I can imagine was the tone of a disdainful snow queen, “I am terribly sorry, SIR, but my daughter is not in at the moment. If you will give me your name I will give her some of your message.”

When I got off the phone there was my mother, sitting at my dining room table with a cup of coffee and The New York Times. She was crisply turning the pages. Nobody can turn a page and make it sound like a whipcrack of ire like my mom. I now do the same thing and it is the universal “Lookout! Mom’s peeved,” signal in our house to hear a page turned in anger.

“That man’s a bad influence on you. Now I see where all your swearing is coming from,” she said. I was a grown woman with three children at the time and at that moment I was looking at the toes of my pumps in total childhood disgrace.

It put up a firewall between my brain and my mouth from that day on because the fact was that I hadn’t even realized I’d sworn in her presence during her visits. That meant I was swearing in earshot of the boys. Double epic fail! However, once you have broken that barrier to bad language, it’s a struggle to keep the new wall in place. Hence, I am even more tough on the boys during those times when the chore load fails to keep them in check.

This week must be a bad week for good words because the chore load wasn’t doing the job with my 17-year-old. I made him read the recent stories about the sorority girl and news anchor and offered him the alternative of using his natural humor as countermeasures to swearing.

His naturally rebellious almost-18 attitude inspired him to mock the idea with “OK, so I drop a hammer on my foot and yell ‘Oh Frootloops?’ Seriously?”

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