Jeffry P. Lindsay
"The Very Bad Word"
We have several new bald spots on our wall this week where the paint has blistered right off and flaked onto the floor. The dining table is cracked and listing badly to one side. And over in one dark corner of the living room there is a patch of carpet that is worn all the way down to the padding. In the padding itself you can see the outline of two tiny, very energetic feet.
The singed walls and worn rug have nothing to do with the re-modeling we recently had done in our house. And they are not caused by hurricane damage or a gas attack from when we fed bad tacos to the dog. No, they are caused by something far more disturbing.
Three year-old Pookie has learned a very bad word.
The first time she said it I was driving her home from day care. She was singing "The Cheese Stands Alone," and she stopped singing for a moment. So I asked her what she had learned in school today, and she said the word. No newspaper in the civilized world, outside of Los Angeles, will print the word she said, so we will just pretend that she said, "Grout." This is, after all, a very bad word in our house right now anyway, after our re-modeling.
So although Pookie had stopped singing about lonely cheese and had clearly said, "Grout." I decided I had heard her wrong. After all, she's only three. She said it again. And this time, even though I definitely heard her say Grout, I decided that if I ignored it, she would stop saying it.
Please do not laugh at me or write me letters telling me how stupid that is. I know how stupid that is. It is as stupid as standing in a fire ant pile and deciding that they won't really bite you if you ignore them. It is as stupid as thinking that everybody on the road with you knows what a turn signal is for. It is even almost as stupid as voting for a politician and then getting angry when they don't do all the cool stuff they said they would do.
But that's what I did. I decided to ignore it. Even better, I convinced myself not to think about it anymore, and so I didn't. After all, this is a word so bad that if I heard myself say it I would wash my own mouth out with soap, and then get my belt and give myself a good whipping. And Pookie is the most angelic-looking three year-old girl you will ever see. She could pose for Valentines Day cards, although if she does it would be a very bad idea to give her a real bow and arrow. But the point is, you can't really see her face and imagine her saying Grout, unless you are the kind of person they are going to arrest for doing awful things on the Internet, and I hope they get you very soon.
So taking all things into consideration, using my mature best judgment based on a life filled with experience, and mixing that with a healthy dread of asking an angelic three year-old if she had really said Grout, I decided that, officially speaking, it had never happened. Pookie never said Grout.
And then the next morning, I came in to the breakfast table and found Pookie's ten year-old sister, T.L. Bear, sitting on the floor next to her chair with a stunned look on her face. All the hair was singed on one side of her head, one leg of the dining table was bent and there was a blistered patch of paint behind her on the wall.
"What's the matter, Bear?" I asked.
She turned stunned and stricken eyes on me. She raised a trembling finger and pointed at her sister, who was smiling happily and watching "Busy World" on TV. "It's Pookie, Dad," Bear said. "She said a real bad word."
"Don't be a tattle tale," I told her sternly, and went to get some coffee. As you can see, I was still working hard at not thinking about it. But a few moments later there was a loud clap of thunder in the living room. I heard sinister laughter in the distance, the dog started to howl and I felt the walls of the house begin to shake. I ran into the living room, and there was Pookie. She looked up at me. "Grout," she said, very distinctly. The blast knocked me backwards onto the couch and a picture fell off the wall onto my head.
I think it was the picture's impact on my skull that knocked some sense back into me. It was a very old picture, one of the really heavy kind they don't make any more, and it really hurt. It hurt me so much that I opened my mouth to say, "Grout!" and in one of those wonderful moments of clear-thinking that only come when your head hurts a lot, I realized that Pookie really and truly had actually said Grout first.
I don't know what I would have done if my wife hadn't come into the room just then. But luckily, she did. She grasped Pookie firmly by the ear and led her over to the corner where we keep our Thinking Chair. "That is a Very Bad Word," I heard my wife say through the dull ringing in my ears. "We don't use that word. Not ever." And she plopped Pookie down into the Thinking Chair.
Pookie began to wail immediately. Her feet scuffled back and forth so fast that the carpet began to melt. But we can't have angelic three year-olds wandering around saying Grout. It would disrupt the very fabric of our society. It had to stop here, no matter how much damage she did to the carpet.
I know she doesn't know what the word means. All she knows is that every time she says it everyone around her bursts into flame. That kind of power is tough to pass up when you are three years old.
Picture what must go on inside her three year-old brain. She has just started to figure out what words are for, and suddenly here's one that can actually crack the foundation of the house. If I know Pookie, she'll look for other words, now that Grout is forbidden. She'll want a word that can make it rain, and one to change her spinach into chocolate. And she doesn't give up -- so before too long, she'll find them. I'll say good morning. She'll say, "Phlegm!" and the TV will be stuck on The Xena Channel.
And when I hustle her into the corner, she'll say, "Gluten!" and the Thinking Chair will turn into a merry-go-round.
Leaving me once again with a spinning head and no way to keep up.