Last night my four-year-old daughter apparently used "the S word," according to the eight-year-old. As the oldest was shouting the accusation from the other room to me, the four-year-old was already in motion, racing for the kitchen where I was cooking dinner to forestall what she assumed would be the storm to follow.
"I'm sorry, Mommy," she began, then, her little face crumbling, "I'm sorry, MOMMY!!" and I was bending down to tell her, "It's OK, honey, everyone sometimes makes a mistake and says something they don't mean to, but remember that that kind of language isn't OK in this house," or words to that effect. I got as far as "It's -" and she was gone, stumbling up the stairs to her room in hysterical tears. We heard her slam the door and fully lose her grip, screaming with sobs.
Truth is, I was briefly amused and surprised that she knew "the S word." We don't talk like that. It's not that we don't know the words ourselves; we're just scrupulous about not using them in the kids' hearing (and frankly I no longer find the need to illustrate my points in exactly this way nearly as much as I did when I was younger). Then I figured it out: a neighbor kid has spent some part of the last three days over here, and though he's a friend of the oldest, the girl loooooves him and hangs around like a groupie whenever he's in the house. This kid is nice, polite, doesn't boot her out of the room or anything (in contrast to her brother) - but evidently he does run off at the mouth. He has an older brother with whom, according to my oldest, he engages in blue-language fights regularly, so there you go.
Poor little girl. I went up to her room and spent a good fifteen minutes trying to convince her that I wasn't mad, that I understood how things can just slip out; for the first ten minutes I was talking over her still-hysterical weeping. Eventually I got out of her the reason for her upset: she was angry and embarrassed at herself. It made me want to drop everything for the whole rest of the night and cuddle her, which, sadly, was not a realistic option. But at least I did get her calmed down, changed her into a pretty dress (I had to wonder at that request: yes, she was all sweaty and wanted to change clothes, but why a dress? Could she actually have "felt dirty" from using a bad word? Hmmm...), and held her hand down the stairs to eat her dinner. She commented on the whole scene later in the evening: "Mommy, remember when I was so upset because I used the S word?"
Oh, that she - that all of them - would remain self-policing. I know it won't happen, but what a wonderful world it would be if they did.