My Bad-Ass 4-Year-Old

Today was my day to assist the teacher at my son’s school. When a parent is on duty, his/her child gets to bring in something for show and tell.  The child will give his fellow classmates three clues about what his thing is, and the classmates will guess.

Keller brought a velociraptor that transforms into a motorcycle.  None of the kids got it from his first two clues. His third clue was as follows, “My thing is so bad-ass that it can eat a Co-woss-Ooh Squid (Colossal Squid). I choked back a chukle and the teacher glared hard at me. I know I was in for a lecture after class.


I’m not sure where Keller learned this phrase (though at home is a likely candidate); however, I do know, for sure, that he first uttered the phrase as a 2-year-old, a summer ago, while we were at the beach with my parents and siblings.

“Keller, you’re a good boy,” my father said.

“No, I’m not. I a bad-ass,” Keller responded, defiantly.

Everyone laughed, and Keller realized he was onto something. It’s been one of his favorite phrases ever since, and I never even considered deterring him. It was too adorable to ruin.

I’m of the strong opinion that censorship of special words is silly. Words are just words, it’s the way they are used and the intent that matters. I could say about a thousand things more offensive than the f-word without even cussing. I think, as a society, it makes us look silly and unsophisticated that we put a big “NO!” label on certain danger words. That said, after the episode at school, I realized that there would be many more to come over the next 14 years unless I did something to clean up my four-year-olds vocabulary. I mean, “bad-ass” wasn’t the only slang word he’d picked up to date. And as strongly as I feel about the censorship of words, I feel even more strongly about not being harassed by every teacher/parent my child encounters over the next 14 years.

So, I decided it was time to teach Keller that certain words aren’t acceptable for use outside of our home.

After class, I pulled him aside. The following is the conversation we had, as best as I could recall it:

“Keller, you were awesome during show and tell, but you can’t use the expression, “bad-ass” in front of anyone else but Mommy and Daddy, anymore.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it makes some people uncomfortable,” I replied.


“Because adults expect children not to use certain words.”


“Because somehow, over time, people have labeled certain words as being bad words.”

“What did the word do?”


“How was the word a baddie?”

“The word isn’t bad, like a bad-boy kind of bad. It’s just slang, and you shouldn’t use slang at school. Besides, there are more appropriate words you can use at school.

“What’s a slang?”

“A slang isn’t a thing, it’s a way of talking that involves the use of words that aren’t grammatically correct, and aren’t always in the dictionary.”

“What’s a dictionary?”

“A giant book full of all the words that we known.”

“Is bad-ass in the dictionary?”

“I don’t know.”

“It should be.”

“I’ll notify the authorities.”

“What’s an authority?”

“It’s someone that has power over you.”

“Like my teacher.”


“My teacher doesn’t like slang bad-ass words?” he asked.

“No, she doesn’t.”

“Why? Bad-ass is the coolest ever,” he replied.

“Well, she doesn’t like it.”

“Because she’s not cool?”

“It has nothing to do with her level of coolness. She doesn’t like it because she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for children to use that words like that.”

“Is it okay for grown-ups?”

“No, not really.”

“I hear you say ass all the time.”

“Okay, yes, yes, it’s okay for grown-ups to say it… Sometimes.”

“Shit poopies! Daddy this is really confusing.”

“Don’t say that, either.”


“No. You can say poopie. Don’t say shit.”

“But shit is poopie, Daddy.”

“Yes, but shit is slang, and you shouldn’t say it.”

“What is poopie?”

“Hmmm. Well, poopie is slang too, but it’s okay slang because it’s not vulgar.”

“What’s a vulture?”

“A vulture is a bird. That’s not what I said. I said ‘vulgar’. Vulgar isn’t a thing. It’s a word that means gross. Poopie isn’t a gross thing to say.”

“Poopie is super gross, Daddy.”

“Yeah, good point. I guess it is.”

“So poopie is a vulture then?”

“No, poopie isn’t a vulture. Look, Keller, I don’t care if you say “bad-ass” or “shit”, just don’t say them outside of the home or you are going to get in trouble. Do you want to get in trouble?”


“Then don’t say it.”

“Okay,” he said… “Are there other bad-ass slang words?” he asked.


“What are they?” he asked.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“How will I know the other bad-ass slang words if you don’t tell them to me?”

“I’ll let you know if you say one, by accident, someday.”

“What about penis? Is penis a slang, bad-ass word?” he asked, he was smiling now. I’m pretty sure he knew he had me reeling… Either that or he’s like every other dude in the world, and it’s impossible for him to say penis without giggling.

“No, it’s not bad, but you still shouldn’t say penis at school.”

“Why not?”

“Because penis makes people uncomfortable.”

“It’s not a slang, bad-ass word, but I still can’t say it?”


“Hmmmmm,” he said, thinking hard for a loophole. “What about boobies?”

“Same thing. Don’t say boobies.”

“Hmmmmm,” what if we’re playing dinosaurs at school and Logan hits me in the penis with his elbow when he’s pretending to be a T-Rex with super short arms?”

“What about it?”

“Can I tell my teacher that I got hurt on my penis?”


“But you said I can’t say penis at school.”

“If you get hit in the penis, you can say penis.”

“Hmmmmm. Hmmmmmm. Hmmmm.” He sat, pondering.

“Can we go home now,” I asked.

“Is pussy a slang, bad-ass word?” he asked.

“First of all, it’s not ‘slang, bad-ass’, it’s just slang. And yes, pussy is slang and you shouldn’t say it. And since when do you know that word?”

“You told Mommy that you—“

“OKAY! I GET IT!” I said, loudly, cutting him off, weary that the teacher would overhear. “It’s okay for me to say that word to Mommy. But you can’t say it at school.”

“Why can’t I say pussy?”

“Stop saying it, Keller?”

“But why can’t I say pussy when you can say it?”

“Because Daddy is a grown-up and there are different rules for grown-ups,” I said, sounding exactly like my father.

“That’s stupid .”

“Also, I love Mommy so I’m allowed to say that to her.”

“I love Mommy too, so I can say it to her?”

“No, you can’t.”

“And I love Kaileen too, so I can say pussy to Kaileen too,” he stated. Kaileen is his 5-year-old girl-friend.

“You absolutely CAN NOT say that to Kaileen!”

“How come? I love them, just like you.”

“I married Mommy, so I can say it to her. You have to be married to a girl to say it to her,” I said.

“Mommy has nice boobies. I’m gonna marry Mommy. Then I can say pussy too.”

“You do that.”

“Mr. Nespoli, can I speak to you for a second,” the teacher yelled to me. Given that this was my first time at Keller’s school and I’d already heard one swear word from his mouth, I was pretty certain he’d said others, and I knew this teacher was going to lean in hard on me.

“Wait right here on the monkey bars, Keller, I have to talk to your teacher.”

“Ooooo, Daddy’s in trouble,” he said.

His teacher gave me the tongue lashing I was expecting, telling me everything my kid had ever done wrong in her class. She dragged it on for as long as possible, making sure to make me squirm as much as she could. I was positive that she was enjoying it. After, I walked away, grabbed Keller’s hand, and we began walking to the car.

“What a bi— What a meanie,” I said, correctly myself, mid-word. It was time to change my vernacular, and there’s no better time than the present.

“Daddy, I don’t like her. She’s not a bad-ass,” he said.

“No, she isn’t,” I replied.


If you liked this little story, you will surely LOVE my new smash-hit memoir about fatherhood, “Daddy Versus The Suck Monster.” But it here and help feed my hungry children. Thank you-

One thought on “My Bad-Ass 4-Year-Old

  1. Pingback: My 3 Words # 18 | emilykarn

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