“Fock,” she said the other day, and looked at me craftily – no, not craftily, but testingly, sideways, just a little.

“Fock,” she said again. She waited.

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t laugh, and I didn’t gasp. I remained calm – it’s what I’m practicing, being patient and calm. (It’s working pretty well, too – now, I sometimes stop myself mid-shout: “Why am I shouting? Tell me to be calm!” My daughter then says, “Be calm, Mama!”) Besides, I was thrown for a loop; I hadn’t expected this line of conversation. I was trying to figure out how to address this. You can’t just say, “Wait a minute honey; I’ll be right back after I go read a parenting book for advice on how to deal with this situation.” There’s a lot of improv, and maybe it’s not the kind that would make Second City hire me, but as a parent, you do your best – without cursing yourself for not thoroughly preparing for whatever particular moment you find yourself in.

“Is that OK to say?” she asked.

“Where did you hear it?” I countered.

“At school.” Of course. Preschool is educational in many, many ways.

“Oh. Who said it?”

“One of the kids.” Naturally. Or “natch,” as my daughter sometimes likes to say.

“Fock.” She waited again. “It is a bad word?”

Earlier this week, she came home from preschool, telling me how someone had said “hate,” and that she told the student that that wasn’t a nice thing to say. She also told me that the student went on playing and didn’t pay attention to her. Someone else said, “Stupid blocks!” and she also said that it isn’t nice to call things stupid. In our house, we try to avoid lots of words – and not just the obvious ones. (Once, I said “crap” in front of her, and she repeated it over and over for about a minute. I knew then and there that slipping wasn’t an option because I’d hear about it – and so would many, many other people – for a long time.) We try to avoid saying “hate,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “idiot,” “ugly,” and my big three classroom no-no words and phrases, “gay,” “retarded,” and “shut up,” among others – really, the words that are most likely used disparagingly. We don’t always succeed (for instance, Sandra Boynton is prone to use “ugly,” and Lucy in Peanuts uses the word “stupid,” so you either have to say it or go with “silly” or something else on the spot), but we do our best. I told her then that I was proud of her for using her words and telling them how she felt about those words.

So here, we had “fock.” What to do?

“You know how you told the other kids this week that they shouldn’t say ‘hate’ and ‘stupid’? That was really good, and I’m proud of you. There are lots of words like those, and some other words that just aren’t nice to say. You have to decide for yourself if you’re going to be the kind of person who uses them or not.”

And that was it. She hasn’t said it again, and she didn’t say anything else about it. We all like to test our limits, and we all have to figure out who we are – or whom we’d like to be.  I’d like to think that “fock” disappeared because she has decided that she’s not the kind of person who uses those kinds of words. At least for now.