I was cooking dinner one evening, and my sweet daughter Aya was helping me in the kitchen. Out of the blue, she asked me, "Nanay, what does bitch mean?"
I was taken aback, and immediately I worried about where exactly she had heard that word. Did she hear one of her classmates or friends say it (bad, baaadd children!)? Did she hear it on TV? The Internet? Or worse, did she ever hear me say it out loud? Well, at least my conscience is clear that I have never said that word in front of her. If you’re a responsible adult, it’s only natural and expected that you filter the vocabulary you use in front of children, particularly your own. Still, despite our best efforts, it is next to impossible to shield our children from the so-called evils of the real world. It’s all part of growing up in an imperfect society. Sooner or later children will find out that both nice and nasty things are out there in various proportions.
Anyway, in between chopping vegetables and putting meat to sizzle on the wok, I tried to explain to her the meaning of the b word. I said, "Well, it has two meanings. The first one is that it refers to a female dog. The other is a nasty one, and that’s what some people call nasty people who are mean and not nice. You shouldn’t use that word because it’s a bad word."
Aya looked thoughtful, the way she always did whenever I explain a word or idea to her. Then as if she suddenly remembered something, she immediately left the kitchen.
When she came back, she showed me the Illustrated Classics for Girls book I recently bought for her, the one she has been reading by herself recently. Gingerly, she opened a page and pointed at a passage on Chapter 3 of The Wizard of Oz:
But the scarecrow had an idea. "If the tinman chops down this tree, we could use it to cross the ditch."
Oh…my…gosh! It was ditch, not bitch, you hopeless schmuck. Trying to hide my embarrassment, I quickly explained to her the meaning of the word ditch.
1. Children ask simple questions, but adults make a big deal out of them.
2. Adults just need to listen carefully to what children say (if only to avoid blunders like this one).