These are not words we use lightly around here. Right up there with “Shut Up” in terms of a phrase turned by one of the Beadling Boys that will automatically trigger an icy stare, stern reprimand and loss of personal items. As in, “Did you just tell your brother to ‘shut up'”?! iPhone? — GONE. iPod? — GONE. Big League Chew pack you got from Santa in your stocking that you didn’t think I knew you’d squirreled away in your bedroom? — GONE. That type-deal.
We are very strict about words. It is may be the most helicopter-y piece of our parenting. Maybe because there’s not much grey. Minimal ambiguity. There is no detective work or forensic psychiatry that must be deployed to figure out whether something someone said at the lunchroom at school was prompted, whether something was a proportionate or disproportionate response, whether we need to call and/or email a schoolmate’s parents to either apologize or solicit an apology. Those are 51/49 situations, at best.
But a curse word that I hear with mine own ears? Very easy for our reptilian parenting brains to kick in, a black line clearly crossed, perhaps the easiest wrong for a parent to address. If parenting were only about keeping your kids on the proper vocabulary train? Shit, that would be a breeze. Shit, I said “shit.” There I’ve gone and done it again. Shit.
Our older son, Max, I know, is walking among the forbidden fruit, mouth agape at this shiny, glistening swear word forest, hanging low and delicious. He and his schoolmates and teammates, I know, are running amok in said fruit forest, swinging curse word machetes wildly. Not caring whether the words that fall to the ground like a Fruit Ninja massacre go together, make sense at all to anyone, are being used the way they were intended by whoever “invented” these words, etc. I’m just not going to sweat that too much. As long as those words aren’t directed at someone in a hurtful manner, as long as a couple of them are truly never said at all (verboten), let the loin-clothed hunters run with their tribe.
But don’t bring it home.
Unless, of course, it’s Duke-Carolina.
At least twice a year every year, my alma mater gets it on with a certain rival of a puffy blue variety. Some might even call it an impossibly silly, puffy blue variety. I’m not calling it that, I’m merely pointing out what some might say. I’m of course way beyond that sort of gutter talk. I’m evolved. Adult. Right-thinking.
However, I am a big college basketball fan. Always have been. I’ve already blogged about that particular predilection. And blogged again about it. So I guess that means I’m returning to the well a third time here. So be it.
On the runup to a Duke-Carolina game, I become my inner hunter, loin-cloth wearing, Fruit Ninja-collateral damage covered looking kid. Sprinting through the Forest of Forbidden Fruit, cutting the stalks of succulent stuff that splits in half, seeds exploding out, the guts squeezing up between my toes as I run along madly. I get to say and post and re-post and Tweet, “Go to Hell.” I even get to direct that malevolent phrase at someone. At a lot of someones, in fact; at an entire institution. “Go to Hell, Carolina” might just offend a few hundred thousand people, maybe millions. I say this in unison with anyone else I can drum up and whip into a frenzy. Stuff like this video of the annual managers’ hoops scrimmage, this one devolving into elbow throws? Manna from heaven.
I don’t want anyone to be offended, truly, of course. And I don’t want anyone really to actually “go to hell.” I don’t know what “hell” is, I frankly don’t believe in whatever it is. But I know that millions do, and that this particular set of directions might be hurtful. So I hope that the lost driver forgives my indiscretion at leaning into their window, making friendly eye contact, then pointing with shaky finger straight down to the ground. Not breaking eye contact. Sick smile replacing friendly smile that prompted them to seek me out for directions in the first place. “Go to Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell.” God that feels good. Sorry but it does.
The other piece, the admittedly more important piece, is that to my mind, this game is part of Grandma’s Lemonade recipe. This game is a constant that I have enjoyed, celebrated a few times each year since I was a far different person. Seventeen. Nearly thirty years ago at this point. My first “GTHCGTH” experience came when I could not possibly have known what life would bring. Heartbreak and celebration and heartbreak and celebration. Euphoric “This is Sparta!” victories and gut-punched failures. So this game represents a manufactured tradition, forcing me (and my family, if they’ll sit and watch) to catch our breath, focus only on 40 minutes of basketball, and enjoy something pure. Something that should be enjoyed. Something that serves to remind us that life is good. Win or lose the game, it almost doesn’t matter. It’s a clean and valuable pill of perspective. A boisterous card game played by exhausted soldiers in a war-torn country, between enemy engagements. A long and winding joke told by an uncle with a twinkle in his eye, distracting us from the impending death in this very room of someone who matters to us.
Of course this game is only a sliver, a shadow, of these other examples. But I think it’s an important sliver. It’s important to have even these little miniature replicas of shelter from the storm, a single sunlit ray through the frighteningly dark clouds overhead.
So I’m gonna run through the forest tonight, shit-eating grin on my face. (Shit, I said “shit” again.) Shouting, chanting, even, “Go to Hell Carolina, Go to Hell!” at anyone who’ll listen. Who’s with me?
Thanks for reading.