Orange Parenting: Dollar Sign, Ampersand, Asterisk, Exclamation Point

During the Rutgers game, Paul went to throw his hat at the TV. It missed and landed in the fireplace. Soot is easier to clean up than our Little Oranges' vocabularies.

I’m an elementary school teacher who married an electrical engineer. You’d expect our sports spectating to be quite vanilla, filled with enthusiastic, "Keep up the good work, CJ" encouragements from me and some "Dion, tonight is really going to affect your shooting percentage" analysis from Paul. For me, you’d be close to correct. For him, you’d be sadly mistaken.

Remember Edward Norton’s character in "Primal Fear"? That is Paul. Quiet, unassuming, likable most of the time. A drunken sailor during basketball games. (Football, too, but I just finished watching the Rutgers game with him.) He doesn’t just spout the F’s, and S’s. We’ve got things being done to mothers, female anatomical parts being handed out, and death wishes on opposing cancer-surviving coaches. (After the games, he says he doesn’t mean that last one.)

Now, my vocabulary wasn’t all rainbows and teddy bears, either. I may have thrown in some pussy willows and fairy wands, occasionally. But put me in a classroom and I could shut it off without even thinking. When I met Paul and heard his picturesque vocabulary, I assumed that once we had kids of our own, he’d be able to tone it down as well. I learned early on that I had set my sights too high.

For those of you who don’t have kids, I have to explain something about newborns. They’re useless. Cute, you love every ounce of them, would give your life for them, but they’re useless. Anyone who thinks that playing classical music to a belly is going to get their child into Harvard or Syracuse is fooling himself. Yes, it will show your love and devotion, and if you keep it up for their whole childhood they’ve got many advantages. But your newborn doesn’t know the difference between that symphony of sound and the cacophony of words my husband yelled at the TV during her first year on Earth. So I let him keep it up.

Then, amazingly, your Little Oranges begin to talk. They copy your words. When Maggie* was about 20 months old, Paul heard her in a moment of frustration calling her toy, "f*&%ing thing". That’s when I think he started trying to change 30 years of habits.

His first modification was to try to watch Syracuse games quietly. If you don’t talk at all, no curse words can come out, right? A few broken remote controls later, we found Maggie slamming her baby dolls’ heads into the ground when they did something naughty. The orange doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Later came the hat throwing. This one still exists, although it is no longer effective in releasing any frustration. Paul throws the hat from the couch toward the offending player or official on the TV. Little Reese toddles over, picks it up, and brings it back to him. "Frow it ‘gen, Dada." Too cute to keep you in the antagonistic mood necessary for Hoya hating.

A few times, I’ve witnessed the sequestering-in-the-bedroom strategy. Paul admits that he’s about to start dropping F’s and leaves the room. However, given that we don’t have a bedroom TV, he’s stuck using Twitter to keep him informed, so I don’t think that one is fair.

Among all of these attempts to tame himself for the sake of our Little Oranges, there are some words that do slip out. We had a hilarious misunderstanding during football season where both girls came running to me explaining that "Daddy just said gommit dammit." I giggled, which of course encouraged them to add those words to their regular vocabulary. For a few weeks, that was what they said about anything that went wrong. Should a good mother correct her child as to the correct pronunciation of the offensive phrase?

Paul’s latest strategy is the word-substitution one. I’ve tried repeatedly to get him to use my two favorites: "Oh bummer" and "Darnit!" However, Paul is just modifying his tried and true phrases. Maggie has picked up on this one, sort of. Her most recent frustrated exclamation is "Gosh dammit." Halfway there, sweetie. And we both had to laugh when she very seriously said, "Oh Shhhhh." She actually didn’t know the ending to the word because Paul’s been stopping himself or turning it to sugar or shenanigans. But this strategy has the elementary school teacher in me wondering where to draw the line. Would I call home if a child told another to, "Suck my finger!" or yelled, "That’s bullllllll….oney" to a friend? (Probably yes for the first, no for the second.)

I might need to go ask for help from the Head Honcho himself. You can't tell me that Jim Boeheim kept his potty mouth in check when he had Little Oranges running around. Don't you think he messed up once or twice, or (say it with me now) ten f***ing times?

To date, I haven’t received any calls home from the preschool teacher about my Little Oranges. When I do, I'm handing the phone to Paul. For now, let’s hope they take after their mom when it comes to vocabulary.

* I've given up my previous internet strategy of calling the girls Little Orange and Littler Orange. I guess I'll trust you with their real names now. Just don't go passing their names along to any wackadoos, okay?

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