On Friday night, as we were watching “Pitch Perfect" on the Family Channel, my 9-year-old Aidan complained, “Why does Zane get to be the Remote Queen? How come I never get to be the Remote Queen?”
He was lodging a complaint about his 11-year-old brother’s control of the television volume. My husband, whom the boys call Papa, is usually the Remote Queen in the house, but for reasons I do not quite understand, he ceded control of the device to Zane, thus starting a Friday night round of sibling rivalry.
Word choices truly are the "tell.” I began to think about this five years ago when the kindergarten aide said, “Your sons are the only two boys I have ever known who knew all the words to ‘I Will Survive.’”
English is a language with both universal meaning and private meaning, where definitions evolve in a place so small as our home in the Crocker Amazon. There are words that the Fisher-Paulsons use in our home that in no other home have quite the same connotation. Take Mr. Fluffy. None of our dogs are named Mr. Fluffy. (For the record, they are Krypto, Qp, Buddy and Bandit) But Mr. Fluffy evolved into the collective noun signifying all of the rescue dogs who live in the blue bungalow. If you hear “Mr. Fluffy needs to go on the lawn,” you know that you had better grab whatever hound is closest at hand and walk out the door, or you are likely to be stepping in a puddle inside.
True, I have never explained the difference between a zone defense and a man-to-man defense to them, but that is one of the other joys of gay parenting: letting the boys learn to ask questions of their straight uncles.
There is a downside to having our own language. Zane and Aidan speak a language that other middle school boys do not. And yet, they have never gotten in trouble for calling the assistant principal a Control Queen.
But sadly, Zane learned the true power of language choices, not for Gaybonics, but for a much more prosaic term. One of the mothers of his fellow sixth graders circulated a petition to get him expelled. It turns out that her son was at a sleepover and another mother heard him say, “Shut the F-word up.” Now this was the granola mother, the one who taught yoga, the one who smiled benevolently as she said “namaste” and she campaigned to get my son thrown out, because he was the only one who could possibly have taught her son that word?
I am not here to defend the casual use of the F-word, but really? This was the sixth grade in the 21st century, and this mother thinks the boy had never heard the F-word before? And her compassion extends to getting an 11-year-old boy thrown out of school?
Neither Papa nor I had taught Zane the F- word. He had picked it up in elementary school, and the first time that he used it at home, we sat down at the kitchen table and explained that the word meant intercourse, but that it was also used for emphasis as well as intimidation. We did not forbid him to use the word, but we did suggest that it was best left unused until he actually understood what intercourse was.
The school year is not over, and we do not know whether Zane will be invited back. But we are family. Zane asked me once why I chose to be a writer, and I told him that it was because words are so powerful, that they are the force that can create or destroy an idea. And just as the indiscriminate use of the F-word may have actually spelled D-O-O-M for Zane’s parochial school career, so also do words bind us together. Remote Queen and Fran Sancisco and Mr. Fluffy are among those terms that are spoken only in the argot of the Fisher-Paulsons, that only four humans and four canines in the whole world know.
And when we speak that secret language, we invoke the magic that binds us together.