I know the exact moment my parents fully regarded all four of us children as adults. Though I cannot say what motivated the change nor how we “earned” it, so to speak, I will tell you how I knew when I knew. It did not happen when we went to college (obviously) nor did it happen at graduation. It did not happen (as I expected) when my mother made me sit down at the computer three days after graduation and figure out everything “insurance” for myself and then pay for it. It did not happen when we finally landed that first job with benefits. I do not even believe that getting married and having children was the defining moment that my parents regarded me as an adult. But it has happened. For all four of us. And here is how I know: when we all come together, once a year or so, every single member of my family, in conversation, curses, without shame, without hesitation, without apology. Like sailors. And I do not exaggerate to say this includes the original Mr. and Mrs. Paulus just as much as it includes the active duty Army boys (who, by nature, believe they are excused).
If you knew me in high school, you understand why this is seemingly as natural as it is ironic. I, for one, have been cursing fluently since about the 6th grade, with the exception of the four years of active leadership in my Christian high school and Christian youth group and certainly never in the presence of my mother. And for as long as I can remember, I had the strictest parents of everyone I knew. This began with their insistence on everyone calling them Mr. and Mrs. Paulus and trickled down to things like curfews (even in college), being home for dinner every night unless we submitted a pardon at least 24 hours in advance, and of course, language.
Of course the Paulus children were not allowed to curse, but a “bad word” in our house was not merely constituted by society’s 4-letter word rules. My mother had her own set of four letter words when we were growing up (and mostly grown) which included: butt, fart, shut-up, crap, and retard. When we were very small children, “bathroom talk” at the dinner table excused us to the room for which it was intended, to stand in front of the mirror and “get it out of our systems” at the top of our lungs. This punishment was weirdly effective on me, but a fabulous pasttime for my brother.
Today, it seems these rules no longer apply. Today, I am sending mass-email reminders at the holidays that my children are no longer infants, therefore they can and will pick up on anything they hear so could we please refrain from mature language in the presence of Eliott and Carter.
It is an amazing thing the way bad language resides inside us and can be summoned or suppressed at the flick of a mental switch. There is also an amazingly liberating and unifying social climate that has since been created by the general acceptance that what was once a hard and fast Sarah Paulus rule, is no longer. It is like my mother has non-verbally announced, “I release you.”