7-year-old Bean has been hounding me for days to tell him what "the f-word" is. Apparently, the issue came up at his afterschool program, where the kids were working on a list of rules. Some of the older kids suggested that not using "the f-word" or "the bad finger" would be good rules; for the littler kids, however, this raised more questions than it answered: a bad finger? What could that mean? And what, on earth, is "the f-word"? (Some guesses: "fart" and "fool.")
So, finally, when he started asking me about it yet again and pleading with me to tell him what it meant, I sat him down.
"Bean," I said, "I'm going to tell you. But this means that I'm treating you like a grown-up, and you need to understand that you can never say this word at school or at afterschool program. If you feel like you want to say this word, you can go in your room by yourself and say it quietly. That's it. Because it is not a nice word."
"Okay," he said, seriously and expectantly.
"The 'f-word' is 'fuck'. Remember how I told you about the man putting his penis in the woman's vagina? That's called 'intercourse,' or sometimes, 'sex'. The word 'fuck' is a very rude way to say that. You might hear me and Daddy saying it sometimes, but it isn't nice and we shouldn't do it. Putting up your middle finger at someone - no, not that way, like this - means 'fuck you.' It is very rude and not nice and we don't ever do that. Okay?"
"Okay," he said, still serious. Then, thoughtfully, "You know, I bet I would've ended up saying it by accident, if I were just fooling around and saying silly words." (In fact, he has.)
So that's where we are. So far, so good.