BACKGROUND INFO: For those who don't know, 6-9yo's are obsessed with swear words. The knowledge of such is the topic of much recess conversation. My kids talk about the F-word, the A-word and the S-word frequently (but hilariously, they don't actually know what the words are, just the first letters).
So this is the dinner conversation with my 9yo two nights ago:
9yo: One of the boys found a swear word in the Spanish word search.
Me: Yeah? Seems kind of weird for a word search.
9yo: Yeah, he said it was the worst one EVER but I don't know if it's a swear word.
9yo: It was the R-word.
Me: Hmm...I don't know any R swear words. Not even in Spanish. I think he was making it up.
(30 minutes later)
9yo: I keep thinking about that word. Can I write it down and you tell me if it's a swear word?
And then she hands me a slip of paper and the air whooshes out of my lungs.
I was speechless. I didn't know what to say. My daughter doesn't even know where babies come from (I'm a feminist, I am ready and willing to have that conversation with her, but she has ZERO interest so I don't push it). How the heck was I supposed to respond to this piece of paper?
This is what I said: Jojo, this is a terrible word for many reasons. But it's not a swear word. It's a grown up word that I don't think you're ready for yet. But when you're ready, I'll tell you. I don't want you asking other kids what this means. This is a conversation for you and me to have when you're older.
I have no idea if this was a good response. I've been stewing about it ever since. Part of me is glad that this boy thinks the R-word is the worst swear word. Part of me wonders how he heard it in the first place (although honestly, it could have been anywhere). Part of me wants to pull my daughter out of school and protect her from all this. She's 9 years old. I don't want her introduction to sex to be wrapped into violence.
But the truth is, mine was. And I have worked for many years with an organization (The Voices and Faces Project) whose mission is to not brush the issue of rape under the rug. Whose mission is to deconstruct the rape culture we live in so that good dialogue can happen around this issue and change can be affected.
I worry that by not explaining this word to my daughter, I am (possibly) allowing someone else to create the lens for her. But still, I'm not ready to tell her yet. At the SCBWI LA conference, Donna Jo Napoli said we must write about horrible things not only for those who have experienced them, but also for those who haven't so that those who have been sheltered may develop empathy and compassion. I agree with this completely. And yet, when my 9yo wants to know what rape is, the words can't form in my mouth. And I'm not convinced that they should. Yet.
I'm very curious as to what other parents would have done in this situation. Did I miss an opportunity for dialogue or am I rightly allowing my daughter to hang on to her innocence for a little bit longer???