“Stupid is not a nice word.” My four year old, Snug, says this a lot. She says it to the TV when a character calls someone or something stupid, regardless of the context, she immediately and sternly tells the TV, “Stupid is not a nice word.” To family and friends, when our conversations drift out of the realm of “kid appropriate,” she quickly puts us in our place with a sharp, “Stupid is NOT a nice word!” She calls out neighbors and strangers alike…. A cashier at Target the other day who was talking about “how stupid all the snow we are getting is… a neighbor to whom I was sharing an especially difficult situation that required our little family to be separated in two cities because of work… It lasted a year and many times a day I thought our situation was incredibly stupid… My neighbor agreed and voiced as much during our conversation. Much to my chagrin, Snug waggled her finger up at her and sternly said, “Miss Cindy, STUPID is NOT a nice word!” Oh dear! Now because our neighbor is lovely, she courteously agreed and apologized to Snug with a wink my way. Afterwards, Snug and I had a talk about how we do not call out our elders like that. Her feisty response was, “But Mama, she said stupid and that is not a nice word.”
And it got me thinking…She’s right. Stupid is absolutely not a nice word. It might be the worst … It’s overshadowed by the overtly terrible ones that, when uttered by our children in public, make us want to crawl under a rock. But stupid is an insidious word and it’s used far too often in our society to describe any and everything. And here’s the cold hard truth. Snug’s policing of the word stupid more often than not is directed at me. Me! Of all people… the one who planted that seed many moons ago when she was first learning to talk. I told her calmly, ” Snug, stupid is not a nice word!” And she listened to me. She took my lesson deeply to heart. And do you know when she calls me on it? Do I call Snug or Ity, my younger daughter stupid? I would never stoop so low. Do I call my husband stupid? Absolutely not! Family? Friends? Nope, never. An animal? I would not speak ill of innocent creatures. Something on TV? I may think it but I bite my tongue. As a mama, I am setting an example! No, she hears me say it to myself… A lot… Under my breath when I’m chastising myself for some perfectionistic model I’ve set in which I’m in the process of not meeting… She catches me saying it to myself or to someone else about myself, usually sarcastically and self deprecatingly, when I mess up; when I fail at something I’m working on; or when I get frustrated about my own abilities.
“Mama, stupid is not a nice word.” No, Snug, it’s not. But I’ll tell you what stupid is… It’s a wake up call. Because I see in Snug and Ity that spirit, fire, and tenderness which is a part of me I’ve passed to them mixed with that calm cool collected part of their papa that make these extraordinary creatures that I can not wait to spend every day with. I want them to use those traits as they grow up to make themselves happy. I want to model love of myself rather than this sabotaging self-hate that I angrily spew at myself under my breath when I burn the eggs or when I’m running late and I realize I misplaced my phone or really anytime life happens with an outcome that isn’t in keeping with my expectations. I want Snug and Ity to fail and, rather than beat themselves up by calling themselves stupid, to use it as fuel to reach greater heights or just see it as no big deal instead of the end of days feeling that I have when I make a mistake. I want them to view failure as a gift! But what I’m currently instilling in them is that when things do not go the way they expected or wanted that they’re to blame and that the failure is because they’re stupid. What a tragedy that is for their perspective, because there is opportunity for some glorious things to happen in those moments of failure. Wouldn’t it be a delight if I could help my girls be utter failures that change the world as I know it because they didn’t perceive anything as a failure or stupidity but as an opening and a challenge? I’m ending the cycle now. I’m done with stupid, y’all. It is gone from my vocabulary. Wouldn’t it be grand if we all took Snug’s chiding to heart, and stamped out the word entirely? Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift to give to our language…to our children… to our own souls?! Snug certainly thinks so and her mama would entirely agree!