Cleaning It Up

Photo credit: Esty

There are some advantages to living in the suburbs.

Peaceful living, low crime, excellent schools, no traffic and so little noise that you can hear crickets at night. But there are things that require regular maintenance with a bit of an obsessive eye: the furnace, lawn, well, gutters, roof and a little thing called the septic tank.

We got a reminder to have our septic tank serviced in April. Six months and two days before Christmas later, my son called me and said, “You might want to call the septic guy. I can’t flush the toilet in our bathroom.”

I’m not sure why this sent me over the edge, but it did. We’ve had a couple of septic tank disasters, and I didn’t want it happening as I removed the baked stuffed lobsters from the oven on Christmas Eve. Enough has gone wrong lately to convince me that we needed an emergency call to avoid potential disaster.

I called the local septic company, and the secretary was helpful if a bit scolding. “It shows that we sent you a reminder out in April,” she said. “I don’t want to point blame or get anyone in trouble, but we tried to schedule this six months ago.”

“It’s my husband’s fault,” I said. “He’s in charge of the septic tank and let it slide. Then again, we were in the midst of Covid 19 lockdown when the reminder came. We had a lot of other things on our minds.”

The secretary chuckled and agreed. She asked me a couple of questions to determine if we were in severe danger of a backup, or just walking a dangerous line. The sink and shower drains weren’t slow, nor had anyone reported hearing that horrendous yet unmistakable gurgling that precedes a full-blown backup.

As she questioned me, she got another call and put me on hold. When she returned, she said, “Well, I’m having a pretty f*&^ing horrible day. How about you?” I laughed because I was having a pretty s^&*ty day too. And though some customers might’ve been offended by her language, I wasn’t. I worked at Sears Service Center during college and know what it’s like to have a rotten day scheduling service calls.

I never used the F-bomb at Sears, but I was tempted. You can’t believe how nasty some people can be, particularly after taking a day off from work to wait for a repairman who never shows up. But the job taught me that some people can be incredibly understanding and polite even when they’re annoyed. It taught me to be understanding with customer service reps because it’s not their fault.

Back in the 70s, no one used the F-word in polite conversation and I’d likely have been fired for saying it to a customer. But things are different today. It’s now part of the vernacular, a relatively tame word compared to some of the filthy words in popular culture, particularly music and videos.

I sometimes can’t believe the words peppering songs coming out of my son’s I-Phone. It’s a good thing that for the most part, I can’t make out the disgusting words or know what they mean. But I don’t envy parents of young kids today. How do you convince kids to keep their language clean when popular culture is working against you?

I was raised in a household of seven girls by two pretty strict parents. I won’t say they never swore, but it was pretty rare. They raised us to believe that swearing, or having a dirty mouth, was unladylike. I believe my mother’s term for it was, “You sound like a common trollop.”

I rarely swore until I became a newspaper reporter in my early 20s and began swearing like a sailor. There’s something about a newsroom and deadlines that promotes swearing. I don’t know a reporter or editor who hasn’t sworn when a story vanishes from a computer screen. If the computer guy couldn’t retrieve it, it meant rewriting it, possibly the most frustrating task ever invented.

Being married to a guy who swears doesn’t help, and the Curmudgeon’s mouth is even worse than mine. He likes to insert swear words where they’re not needed, as in “Where’s the f*&*ing mayonnaise?”

It wasn’t a big deal when we were just a couple. But our foul language came back to haunt us when our son was about 2, and began throwing around swear words like Lego blocks. My daughter also mimicked us. When we ran into a friend of hers from pre-school in the grocery store when she was four, she chirped, “He’s such an a&*hole.” Thankfully, the child and his mom were out of earshot.

Though some parents think it’s funny to hear kids swear – the Internet is rife with videos of tots cursing a blue streak – I deplore it. At a very basic level, it suggests sloppy parenting and a lack of self control on the parents’ part. When you have kids, you have a responsibility to protect and educate them, and language is part of the package.

Sure, a stray curse word now and then is inevitable, but kids learn by example. In the list of things I wish I’d done better as a mom, cleaning up my language ranks close to the top. I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. I realize now how lazy I was in this area.

When I hear my kids swear, I try to correct them and urge them to find other ways to express themselves. There are tons of cute options out there: “Oh fudge.” “Dang.” “Shitake mushroom.” “Marone” (every Italian American’s fallback.) And my absolute favorite gleaned from my Pickleball pal Pat: “Oh bother.” (Winnie the Pooh’s favorite expression.)

There’s no need to swear, no need to pollute the environment with expletives, though if ever there was a year to swear, 2020 would’ve been it. So for 2021, I’m cleaning up my act. I’m trying not to swear.

I should be just fine until I get onto Interstate 95 and try to merge into traffic, or some idiot tailgates me on a Sunday morning on the way to the bagel place. In that case, I guarantee I’ll swear, but thankfully no one will be around to hear me.