The First Time I Heard My Mom Swear

A rushed dialing of numbers was a last attempt to open the garage.
Photo by Kailin Biggerstaff

The vulgar outburst was over nothing. As the garage door began to inch its way down behind us, my mom’s dignity inched its way out the door.

She dropped it. Right then and there on our driveway. The F-bomb.

I had heard it hundreds of times before, and I had even occasionally practiced using it myself. I was fourteen, and I would still pause and cautiously survey my surroundings before lamely dropping a curse word. For us teens, it was becoming a part of our new image to integrate these profanities, but for my mom — the loyal, loving, honest, sacrificing, protective caretaker — to drop the nuclear bomb of swear words? That was Hiroshima.

My mom realized just as the garage door sealed shut that she had forgotten something inside the house. At this realization, she just about lost her you-know-what. The woman (or at this point, the beast) instantly turned beet red, squawked the F-word, and scrambled her way over to the keypad outside our garage door. She began feverously typing the five-digit code to reopen the door. We weren’t even on our way to a time-sensitive event. In fact, we were nonchalantly heading out for a morning hike.

Perhaps I overreacted to her overreaction. I felt my heart sink to the pits of my small intestine, my ears ring, and my jaw plummet to my feet. It’s likely she didn’t even say the word that loudly, but my eardrums were undoubtedly still underdeveloped and oversensitive to that grand- supreme of curse words.

Instead of commenting on her obscenity, I opted to remain silent. At this point I was almost fearful of her.

Just why this one particular incident caused my mom’s potty mouth to run wild is still unclear to me. A whole new set of doors (besides the garage door) opened up as I analyzed the situation. I thought to myself: If my mom just got

that worked up over absolutely nothing, she must have a lot more on her mind than I know about. She probably even has real feelings and emotions too...

But for all these years she was my mom, not a real human being.

For the most part, all throughout infancy, for the duration of childhood, and for that first innocent part of adolescence youngsters seem to assume that their parents are something other than human.

We believe that perhaps they are superhuman, or possibly a completely different species. Regardless, there is absolutely no way we have anything in common with those bizarre, domineering, monotonous robots.

Parents talked about politics and finances and the current state of the economy. Parents ate roasted brussel sprouts and finely cooked salmon. Parents drank conservative amounts of ritzy draft beers and tart wines, and they were always allowed to stay awake past midnight on school nights.

They were always tired, and they did not — and would never — understand what life was like for us kids. They tended to believe that they knew the best way for us to handle our social lives, and they loved to keep us from having one.

So why did it take my mom’s sudden vulgarity for me to realize that all of my conceptions were generalized and entirely untrue?

That moment with the garage door made my mom look like a fool. It knocked her off her pedestal. As that word fell out of her mouth, it proved to me that she was neither flawless nor impenetrable. And that was exactly the assurance I needed.

At first I felt embarrassed by her uncontrolled profanity, but later I realized that this was a victorious moment for me.

As the word that I had before only heard used by my peers bolted from her lips, I realized that my mother was just a grown version of me. She had probably even been a teenager once, too. With this discovery came emotions of guilt, adoration and understanding that I had never felt toward my mom.

In that moment, at the explosion of that very first F-bomb onto the driveway, our personal guards were destroyed, secrecy was wiped out, and all the discomfort and distress that had ever been present between us was dissolved.

My mom and I have now been freely cussing at home since 2007.

Profanity broke down the walls of perfection.
Photo by Josh Loeser

Our newfound relationship is more than just the billion varieties of “S” words, “D” words, and “B” words that we share. Our willingness to say exactly how we feel — using whichever words come to mind — demonstrates our authentic bond. Instead of working to maintain and present ourselves as perfectionists adorned with halos, we can work to strengthen one another for survival in that vicious world with vicious words.

I often try to put myself in her shoes — to see her as she must see me. I try to imagine myself in my fifties looking down upon the spawn of my own genes as I converse with him or her, freely using expletives. However, I can’t imagine burdening the responsibility that many other parents feel as they constantly try to portray themselves in a constantly flawless limelight. I appreciate the times when my mom breaks down in front of me because she feels hopeless about tomorrow. For the majority of my youth, my mom did everything in her power to conceal her true struggles with finances, relationships and family. Now she can relax in my presence.

Over the past five years, our comfort has debatably crossed the line of mother-daughter normalcy. We wear (or don’t wear) whatever outfits we wish around the house, I openly burp at the dinner table, and our conversations by no means follow familial standards.

On several different occasions, my mom has referenced drunken terminology that even I didn’t recognize. For example: “the zactlys.” For those who have never heard of this phrase, it’s a morning ailment that results after a raging kegger when one wakes up to a horrid case of halitosis, where their “mouth tastes ‘zactly’ like their ass.”

Nichols and her mom can laugh about it now. 
Photo by Josh Loeser

Such a dynamic may seem strange to the parent-child pairs who believe in maintaining a separation between their family life and their sometimes risqué personal lives.

For me, there is nothing like the ability to coalesce the two. Having lived both in fear and alliance with the woman who reigns authoritatively over me, I can vouch that the latter is definitely preferred.

The family that swears together, stays together.


Reach the writer at or via Twitter @TheEmilyNichols

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