Since my daughter’s birth, we have tried to put an exorbitant amount of effort into her learning. Books, music, sign language, and anything else we could think of. As someone who sets aside time to read every day, it was important to me that we would help her learn as much as possible, despite age. There is no prouder moment than watching your child achieve their milestones. It is incomparably the most beautiful thing you can experience.

Then the day finally came for one of our huge milestones in parenthood: her first word.

She had been doing baby talk for a short period of time, but this was different. It makes you do a double take and start saying loudly, “What did they say?” in pure excitement.

This would be something we could share stories about for years to come with pride and happiness. When she gets older, I would be able to sit her down and with a huge smile on my face, and tell her all about the day that she first spoke. She looked up with her beautiful eyes, opened her mouth full of nothing but gums and the word came out sharp and quick!

Her first word? “Sh*t”.

My heart sank. Out of all the things we had tried to teach and instill in her mind, this was what she picked up. We read every day about trains, animals, pirates, hungry bugs, farms, and even infant versions of “The Odyssey” and “Moby-Dick.”

This was certainly not how I imagined this day. Was I a bad parent? Should I have done things differently? What had gone wrong in this rigorous plan of education?

You learn very quickly that not every moment in parenthood is a proud one. No matter how much you plan or how hard you try, things can and will go wrong. Ups and downs are the name of the game and that even includes milestones. No matter how hard you try, your bad habits might be the ones that your child picks up on.

Instantly we started trying to say “shoot” instead of her chosen word and speaking lots of other words to her to hopefully leave this hiccup in the past. The thing that I had to remind myself though was not that she learned a curse word — it was that she was learning.

My child by this point knew how to sign “please,” “thank you,” “milk” and “eat.” This was just another part of her development, even if it was one I didn’t like. Words are just words and she would learn many more, good and bad. The lesson was that it is important in parenthood to find the good in everything.

As far as things that can go wrong, this was small. My beautiful daughter was still healthy, smart, and happy. She was learning and so was I. I learned that her biggest teacher is not all the books I buy, or the music I play for her. Her biggest teacher is her mother and me.

It truly makes you realize the truth in the phrase “lead by example”. I can teach her all the things I think are right, but she will still pick up on the things i would prefer for her to not learn, which means adjusting my own habits to make hers better.

In the end our efforts have paid off and we haven’t heard that first word in a long time, although we heard it a lot for a short while. The word we hear most now is “eat,” and I’m ok with that.

Photo Credit: Tim Theyson

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.

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Tim Theyson was born in the little town of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. His family relocated to Charlotte in 1989, where he has now lived for 26 years. He is an avid reader of all things, and an amateur historian of the golden age of piracy. His daughter Mary-Anne (named after pirates) was born in 2015 to him and his wife Meghan Theyson.

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