11 Jan 2016

Mind your language

I've never quite got to grasps with swearing. Social situations and generational differences dictate social norms in ways that fluctuate quite a lot which can be confusing for anyone, let alone a pre-teen whose peer group has recently exploded to 6 times the size it was before the Summer. And which now includes much less supervised adult time and far more exposure to people just like him who are all trying to decide who they are by loudly and confidently pushing the boundaries of risqué language now that there are no parents around.

Bedtime, October-ish, year 7
Him: Why is the world so confusing??! Some people say all kinds of stuff that doesn't make any sense.
Me: (Naively thinking this is about homework) Give me an example.
Him: I'll need to spell it out to you cause they aren't very nice words.
Me: Oh, OK. That's fine. Go for it.
Him: Well, I think I know this one, but D.I.C.K.
Me: That's a penis.
Him: (Congratulating himself) Yesssssss! OK - B.I.C.H.
Me: Bitch? (Nods at me) You can use that word properly to describe a female dog, but when people use that badly it's to insult a girl and be really mean to her. Usually for no good reason.
Him: Why compare a person to a dog?!? It's all a bit strange.
Me: I agree.
Him: I have a few more: Doing-it-in-a-girl's-bits-off.
Me: Fuck? (He nods). That's having sex.
Him: Yes, but 'Having sex off??!' That makes NO sense. It's not even proper English. I know that and I'm still learning to spell.
Me: I know babe. It's weird to me too.
Him: People should use their words properly! I'm going to have to tell Coby tomorrow because I'm pretty sure he doesn't know either.
Me: You're probably right there. The thing is - no one wants to be the first to ask the question in front of their mates as they think everyone else knows. It was like that when I was at school too.
Him: OK - Then there's G.A.Y.
Me: Gay? Tricky one. Who says that?
Him: Lots of people. They shout it to people to annoy them, like 'You're so G.A.Y!'
Me: Gay isn't a swear word, it's a feeing. It's when a boy doesn't fancy a girl but fancies another boy instead. Or a girl not wanting a boyfriend, but a girlfriend.
Him: That's so weird!
Me: I think so too - but not everyone feels that way. And it's hard because I think God doesn't want that for anyone but some people DO feel that way, maybe for their whole lives, maybe for just a little while and no one should be bullied for how they feel, should they?
Him: People say that a LOT in school.
Me: But just say someone - maybe even one of your friends - is all stressed out about it and is like 'Oh no - I think I fancy a boy!! And I have no one to talk to about it because if anyone finds out the whole class will know and I'll get called gay and be teased Every. Single. Day.
Him: That would be horrible.
Me: Which is why you never use gay to be mean to anyone. Or any word for that matter.

And then it hits me. Isn't the intention behind the use of language, or the purpose of using certain words or ideas - isn't that more important than the actual individual words we use? Or avoid using?

I mean - you can lie to someone to hurt them, which is not OK.
You can lie to someone to protect yourself out of cowardice - also not OK.
But you can lie to someone to protect their feelings and that's kind of noble.
Then you can lie to someone when you have a surprise birthday or holiday planned and that's completely OK, even though you lied.

And then there's the truth, which should be straightforward, but it's really not always that neutral.

You can tell the truth in order to hurt someone's feelings.
You can tell the truth to gossip.
You can tell the truth to manipulate a situation and gain favour with someone.
You can tell the truth and give far too much information than is useful or helpful or loving.
You can choose to tell the truth for completely the wrong reasons and be wrong in doing it even though what you said was technically correct.

Which brings us back to swearing, because I still don't have the consistent approach to the whole thing that my preteen seems to require.

Me: Do you end up thinking the words in your head just because you're hearing them a lot?
Him: (Sadly) Yes.
Me: Why.... Do you think you don't say those words too?
Him: I just don't think it's a good way to talk. And it's not 'me' - if you know what I mean.
Me: I know exactly what you mean.
Him: It's like I drift.. slowly... away... from God at school (demonstrates with his hands) and then at the weekend when I'm at church I sail right back to him (clasps hands together again).
Me: That's pretty cool actually. Because you can't ever drift away completely. He won't let you.

We talk and talk about this stuff for ages. So much so that ManChild comes upstairs to collect his shower things and hangs around in silence for a while (and maybe learns a thing or two, who knows?) when eventually we are all theorised out and I have to go downstairs because bedtime tonight has taken more than an hour and a half.

Him: Thanks for this. I'm going to write all these words down in case I forget them.
Me: Uh... OK. But where will you keep the notebook?? It has to be someplace safe where no one else can accidentally find it.

He decides on a safe place, which is so safe I'm sworn to secrecy and can't type it because that would be too much of the truth (see above). I continue my theorising downstairs in a more appropriate way with my husband, who can cope with most words in the English language - unless 'tidy up', 'unit' and 'skip' are used in the same sentence.

So.... There has to be a careful balancing of censorship vs freedom in any society that values democracy. It's essential to be able to challenge the status quo or campaign to change stuff that the powers that be are a bit too comfortable with. But isn't it miserable when that freedom is played out in an 11 year old's world with people not bothering to find creative alternatives to 'Fuck off' when they are only moderately (or not at all) irritated by something/someone? Surely the most extreme, emotive and potentially insulting vocabulary that exists in any language should be reserved for things that carry more weight and consequence? Things that mean something.

• the fluidity of the term 'terrorist'
• NHS funding cuts
• climate change
• corruption
• cancer
• injustice
• trident
• tax avoidance
• the arms trade
• Walmart stocking guns but not Kinder eggs
• murder of 2 women/week by a partner (UK)
• preventable death of a child every 3 seconds
• carpet bombing civilians who didn't drown on their way to Calais
I don't like the way you just looked at me right now.

• I am full of adolescent bravado right now and you are annoying me
Fuck off

See the weirdness in all of this?

I am all over the place with this post because I'm actually typing my way towards a realisation that started in my head a long time ago that I need to now act on: Blogging / Facebooking / tweeting is a massive waste of time and I need to rein it in. Instead I need to fill my mind with stuff like this and constructive information about the issues listed above and start bugging the hell out of my MP again. Because I used to do this a lot and he's probably missing our correspondence.

BTW, the following bedtime was less intense, quicker and included a sentence I didn't anticipate ever saying to my kid: 'Babe, you forgot the 't' in 'bitch'...'

5 Jan 2016

It's all about the money, money, money

Christmas this year in our house was filled with the usual great stuff like switching off the alarm for 2 whole weeks, lots of nice food, a 6' blue spruce tree with accompanying real tree smell, carol services, seeing lots of friends and family, a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas day, a New Year 's Eve party and spending many of the days in between playing the wii in our jammies.

Oh - and presents. We had those too. For the past few years, we've gradually received less toy & game based gifts and more cash & vouchers. Which is fantastic. The sales generally coincide with the realisation that after a week of non school uniform, everyone has less clothing that still fits them than we previously thought. Cue after Christmas Next sale.

This emerging tradition is enjoyed tolerated according to several factors and the Overall Retail Experience (ORE) can only be measured by considering them all:

How busy the store is
• Do you ever watch the news and despair about man's inhumanity to our fellow human beings? This should come as no surprise. Give 300 people access to a building containing half price clothing and homeware at 5am on Boxing Day and just stand back and watch the carnage. 

How long we spend there
• Closely related to point number one. The more people in a confined space, the longer the tail backs.

How big the queue is
• Again related to how many people are there and the manager's discretionary approach to having people queue up outside for too long and wander off before they even get in, vs having more people inside the store than is safe or pleasant resulting in the abandonment of clear carrier bags of half price treasures that didn't QUITE make it to the till.

How hungry everyone is
• McD's breakfast when we get out of here.... McD's breakfast when we get out of here.... McD's breakfast when we get out of here....

Finding items that fit
• If there's not a single thing that fits any of you, then this whole experience is an exercise in time wasting and Christmas joy erosion.

Having carefully considered the points above and wishing to maximise the ORE, we carefully hit the sales at 10am on Boxing Day halfway between where we were (Scotland) and where we are going (home), choosing not the biggest outlet in the area, but the one easiest to park at and which offers the bonus post shopping reward of brunch with some friends. Yay!

Results: Excellent. Best for 3 years or so. No early morning scrum and ORE pretty good. Me and Madi get a huge carrier bag of stuff between us that cost £3 more than the vouchers. Brunch and catch up with friends also excellent and everyone's happy.

Or so I thought. A few days later we are discussing the spending money situation when we realise there is a problem. Historically we've put half towards clothing purchases for the kids (aside from when they were teeny weeny and we could spend their money on whatever they happened to need at the time). But the last post Christmas clothes shop was a whole year ago and Madi has forgotten all about the 50/50 thing. And I was so caught up in the excitement of finding stuff we both liked and that actually fitted her that I didn't think to remind her. Now she is upset to discover she has £15 less than she thought she had.

Hmm. I try several approaches, including distraction, humour and reinforcing the choices she (unwittingly) made, but she's still not having it. I try another tact along the lines of don't feel bad because I love you very much, it was our choice to have 3 kids, and we wouldn't change ANYhing about our family even if we could, but do you know how much it costs to look after a baby until they are all grown up and can get a job? (She guesses £20,000 - probably the highest actual figure she can think of that doesn't sound like a made up thing, like a Million). It's actually almost £230,000 (Oh, that IS a lot...) I think on this occasion you could give me and dad your £15 and not be cross about it. And the next time we're shopping together I'll make it really mega clear to you what things are going to cost you in advance...? (Yes - that would be helpful. Please can you do that?). And you know E's new trainers and coat? He paid half towards those too - so isn't it fair to HIM that you pay for your half as well? (Yes - I suppose that IS fair, you're treating us all the same). Thank you. You're being very grown up about this.

Then I'm caught up in the guilt of bringing my (numerous) financial issues into her childhood. I've just congratulated a nine and a half year old for being an adult for goodness sake! Isn't that a bit twisted?! Ploughing time, affection, sweat and cold hard cash into a small person who has no means to support themselves is an act of pure love and commitment that can't and shouldn't ever be repaid.

No one ASKS to be born, do they?

And yet, part of the adult responsibility of raising a small person is to help them become a medium person and then eventually fully grown up person who understands cause and effect and budgeting and cashflow and pensions and overdrafts and mortgages and hedge funds and discrepancies in imperfect markets, isn't it...? Otherwise we end up a nation of affluenziacs who horrendously overspend then vehicularly slaughter innocent pedestrians after mounting the pavement in an uninsured car that we're not even licensed to drive. Or die prematurely after selling both kidneys to the Chinese because they now own everything anyway. Gosh I'm tired. And a little overwhelmed. One minute I'm celebrating the birth of the Saviour of the whole world and BAM now this. Sorry. Normal service will resume shortly. I hope.