It was only a matter of time. After months of asking whether certain words were appropriate for her to use (the answer was almost always “Just understand that if you use that word at school, you should be prepared to get in trouble”), Schuyler had a special request. She wanted to put dirty words on her iPad.
We said yes. Well, of course we did.
Schuyler is fifteen, so in a lot of ways, I’m a little surprised it took this long. When I was her age, I had a pretty… robust vocabulary, let’s say. But of course, very little about Schuyler follows a typical timeline. Still, it was time, and probably long overdue. I think she just wasn’t sure how to ask.
It was on Presidents Day, which turned into Take Your Daughter to Work Day by default. We were in the car, and we might very well have been listening to music with some lyrics that weren’t exactly Disneyesque. That’s when she asked. She is of course welcome to put any words she wants on her iPad, but she understood that this was a special circumstance. After a brief phone consult with her mother, Schuyler was given the go-ahead to filthy up her speech app.
After work, we went to one of our favorite eateries, a hole-in-the-wall joint a few blocks from campus. It was there, in a nearly (but not quite) deserted restaurant, that Schuyler loaded up her AAC app with all the best swear words she could remember.
I’m proud to say that she got the first row, sort of the Big Five Heavy Hitters, without any help (aside from spelling) from me. (I asked her where she’d learned those words, although I already knew the answer. Parents of the Year.) After she created each button, she would try it out. I can only imagine what the wait staff and handful of other diners thought of the electronic voice randomly swearing from our table, in a posh British accent, no less.
At some point I went to the bathroom; I returned to discover that Schuyler had posted on my Facebook page, asking for dirty word suggestions from my friends. Her page filled up in no time. She’s got enough to get herself detention for the rest of the semester, I’d say.
I won’t pretend that helping Schuyler program her device to sound like a George Carlin routine wasn’t fun. But as I have been so many times of late, I was proud of Schuyler for taking another step in her journey towards independence and self-actualization. She understands, like any kid her age should, that saying those words in the wrong circumstances will result in a quick path to repercussions. The trick for her is going to be discovering the boundaries that she can push. If Schuyler is to truly own her prosthetic language as being truly her own, it’s got to be without restriction. Helping her to take agency over her language possibilities doesn’t make me a good father, any more than helping to give her the tools to drop an F bomb in class makes me a bad one.
Interestingly, Schuyler hasn’t really been using her new words, aside from almost unloading on someone on Facebook because she mistakenly thought they were insulting her, and also calling me an assmonkey a few times because it cracks her up. But she’s armed and ready. Every day, in ways both large and subtle, she is taking tiny pieces of the world’s territory and making them her own.
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