Suspended for Swearing? The P-word Post

Suspended for Swearing? The P-word Post

This happened years ago, way back in the mists of time. It was a school day like any other. I dropped the boys off, came home, had coffee. Started running my errands.

I was sitting in my therapist’s comfy little office mid-morning unburdening my soul when my cellphone rang. I wouldn’t have picked it up but it was the school’s number flashing on the screen and I was concerned that something had happened to one of the boys.

-Hi, um, I don’t know how to tell you this but your second grader is being sent home because he used profanity.

-My kid? Profanity? What did he say?

-I don’t have that information, but please come and pick up your son immediately. He has been suspended for 2 days.

My boys, at that time, attended a very black-hat yeshiva school, which had a zero tolerance for profanity, but bullying was acceptable if your parents paid full tuition. Don’t get me started – I still have PTSD from that place.

I was flummoxed. See, my kids were taught from the time they could speak that there was no need to use profanity, that there are enough other words in the English language that can be used in every situation. For my seven year old to be suspended for profanity – it boggled my mind.

I had the babysitter pick the child up from school. I was half an hour away and I knew my son would be sitting in the school office crying until I came to get him.

I finished up my therapy session – my therapist calmed me down, bless her heart, and helped me be in the right mindset to deal with my supposedly errant child.

I arrived home and ran upstairs to my son’s room. He was sitting on his bed in the furthermost corner, arms around his knees – looking so dejected. My heart just broke into a million pieces. I sat down next to him, put my arms around him, pulled him to me, and told him how much I love him. I held him for a while and when I sensed he was calm, I asked him to tell me what happened.

“I said a bad word”

“What bad word did you say?”

“I can’t tell you. The Rabbi said it was bad and I can’t ever say it!”

“Sweetie, in order for me to know how to deal with this situation I need to know what happened”

“But Ima…… “

A stern look from me.

Mumbling: “I said ‘penis’”

“No, really, that’s not profanity. What did you really say?”

He told me earnestly that that was indeed what he said, and there may have been an index finger involved in making a gesture with the word.

He had been talking at recess with a friend, and being 7 year old boys they were being rude and talking about farts and body parts, and all types of things that little boys are obsessed with. A rabbi had been walking by and heard him say the ‘P-word’ and hauled him into the Principal’s office.

I told my son emphatically that the word penis is not a bad word, that it is a body part just the same as elbow or knee, and that he needs to feel comfortable saying it whenever it is warranted, but that there are some people who use different words for it and take issue with the real word. I told him to stay home with the babysitter while I went up to the school to talk to the Principal. I was livid!! How dare he send my son home for saying “penis”?!!

I was so angry that I walked to the school, I saw way too much red to be able to drive.

I walked into the office, straight to the Principal, got up in his face and asked him angrily in front of all the staff “Rabbi – do you have a penis? If so, what do YOU call it?”

He quickly motioned me into his office, but not before I saw the secretaries with their mouths open in shock, one or two actually trying really hard not to show their mirth.

I explained to the rabbi that the word my son had said was not profanity or anything close to it. The better way to have handled the situation if he hadn’t want my son discussing penises in school, was to take him aside and explain that we don’t talk about certain body parts in school. Instead he humiliated my son, unnecessarily suspended him and made him feel awful.

The rabbi conceded that perhaps I did have a point, but still wanted the suspension to stand. I told the rabbi that I wasn’t leaving the office until he spoke to my son on the phone and told him that he was a good kid, and that he wasn’t suspended, and that he (the Principal) had made a mistake in sending him home.

It was a battle of wills. I was NOT having a suspension on my son’s school record – especially when it was so totally not warranted. Mama Bear won out. The Principal called my house, spoke to my son, apologized and told him that he is more than welcome to come straight back to school. I then told the rabbi that I was keeping my son out of school for the rest of the day to spoil him rotten so that he doesn’t feel as if he did something wrong.

On the way out I saw the secretaries smiling. One of my other sons caught me on the way out of school and asked me if it was true that his brother told the Principal to F*&^ off. That was the rumor that was already flying around the school. I told him that the rumor was false, and that he shouldn’t believe that of his brother. He was disappointed….

I got home and told my son we were going out for pizza and ice cream to celebrate. “What are we celebrating?” I explained that we were happy that he wasn’t suspended, and that we are celebrating that the word penis is not profanity.

In fact, the entire rest of that day every time the phone rang I answered it with “Penis, Penis and Penis. How may I direct your call?” drawing a giggle from the 2nd grader every time.

From that day on the Principal was a little afraid of me – and quite rightly so. Oh and he does have a penis. Apparently he calls it “Makom HaMila” (the place of circumcision).

(Note: Just in case you think I am a helicopter mom – I’m not. Within a month of this story one of the other boys was suspended for a minor infraction. He asked me to fix it for him like I did for his brother. I said no. This suspension was warranted. He did the crime, he had to do the time. Of course that got me accused of favouritism, but what can I do?)

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  1. Benji Lovitt says:


  2. RubyV says:

    I wish I could say I was shocked, but I’m not. People from all walks of life are incredibly stupid when it comes to using the proper words for genitalia, etc.

    My daughter learned “vulva” and “vagina” along with the rest of the body. Euphemisms are a silly way to teach children about their bodies.

    It’s right up there with people who tell their children that babies come from the stork.

    It’s time to stop teaching that the body, and reproduction, are dirty, because they aren’t.

    • HaDassah says:

      Having boys, they didn’t learn the female terminology until they actually asked. That’s a blog post in and of itself.

      Bodies are holy – we need to teach our kids to respect their own bodies.

  3. Caroline says:

    Great plan. Start with not letting children use actual words for body parts. Continue by not recognizing and explaining sexuality as kids’ bodies change. Be SHOCKED when you walk into a Jerusalem Internet cafe and see a dozen bochrim watching pornographic content online (true story!!!) because they will be married shortly and have been given ZERO education the matter.

    Yes, I’m judging because I am saddened that normal behaviors and conversations are considered so dangerous that they are forbidden outright. This does not help to promote healthy people or healthy families.

    Feel free to delete my comment if you think I have gone too far. I don’t want to hijack your post, but I felt this needed to be said.

  4. SingleDad says:

    Sorry, HaDassah, it is quite obvious that the Rabbi does not have a penis. Nor balls.

  5. Erika says:

    I. Freaking. LOVE. You! This is amazing. I am so proud to just KNOW you, HaDassah. So many other people would back down or be afraid to rock the boat. I would do exactly what you did. Brava!

    We have taught our kids the proper names for their body parts since they could speak. Granted, we are not Orthodox, but even in the secular world, I know plenty of children who are taught to call them “wee-wees”, “hoo-has”, “junk”, and more. These are body parts that have names. Why not call them what they are? They’re NOT dirty!

  6. HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!! You definitely win Mom-of-the-Year award for this one!! We can all learn quite a few lessons from this story. Good for you!!

  7. 501 says:

    What a dick!!! Ooops!

  8. Natan Epstein says:

    By far the best blog i read today lol , you’r so right, it is a word to be used in the same way of any other body part , Although we are all ashamed to speak of it so as little kids we test our boundaries …. My parents were and still are with the younger ones when using profanity ( and other words .) but my parents just tell them it isn’t appropriate to speak of it they don’t yell ever regarding those words , you were totally right in all your actions .

  9. Lori P. says:

    Good for you, what an awesome Ima!!! I also teach my son the correct name of body parts. I remember growing up, my mother & grandmother would use nicknames. I told myself that when I became a parent, I would use the proper name.

    • HaDassah says:

      I think we learn so much from our own upbringing – what we DON’T want to teach our kids that we were taught. Although, in this instance, my Mum always taught us to use proper names for everything and to use a decent vocabulary instead of curse words.

  10. Andrea says:

    Bullying is acceptable not only because the parents of the bullies pay full tuition, but also because bullying is taught. That is exactly what the Rabbi did to your child. Good for you to take on the penis.

  11. Naomi says:

    You are amazing. My kid also went to a certain school that allowed bullying and rumors about my kids…I get the PTSD thing. I LOVE that you went in to the principles office like that…just wow…Thanks for sharing this!

  12. Ronnie Fein says:

    You had me in stitches. Sorry your son had this trauma from an old crank who probably forgot that he said penis when he was a kid. But you handled it perfectly. My grandson now says penis all the time. It’s a guy thing. It passes.

  13. Rahel says:

    HaDassah, I just have to send you this link….

    (“Penis Envy” by Uncle Bonsai)

  14. This made my morning.

  15. Abe Kohen says:

    Black hat yeshiva suspensions. Brings back memories. I came to Williamsburg as a refugee from Hungary, speaking only Hungarian. Within a month I spoke Yiddish and English and was enrolled at the first of my UO yeshivot (Viener). We lived initially with my Aunt who asked me if I needed to make ketanem or gedoilem (Hungarian accent). I THOUGHT those were dirty words in Yiddish or perhaps Hungarian, so I never used those words, until I learned some Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic in yeshiva and realized that those were euphemisms using Hebrew words meaning small and large in the plural. Later on I learned to speak fluent Modern Hebrew, but by then I was a shygetz.

    But the suspension in High School came about because a Rabbi snitched that he saw me talking with meidelech on 14th Avenue in Boro Park on Shabb{at/es}. Unfortunately it wasn’t me he saw, but another yeshiva b{a/o}chur. I say unfortunately, because I didn’t get the taanug of speaking with girls (I made up for it later in Israel) and I didn’t get suspended for a week like the other boy. C’est la vie.

    Hat tip to Josh Backon for commenting on your story on Facebook.

    • HaDassah says:

      Sorry you didn’t get suspended for something you didn’t do… wait… what? Oy!! Glad you stopped by, Abe!

  16. Can I just say that you are awesome?! I teach my two year old the proper names for his body parts. Lately he’s been calling his penis his tushy and I’m wondering if that’s what they told him in school. I think there’s something wrong when we teach our children that their bodies which were created in G-d’s image are dirty. The only thing that’s dirty is the mind of those adults.

  17. Oh, if you didn’t already know this, I’d tell you you’ve won a fan for life. I love this, I adore you, and you are an amazing mom. Well done, Mama Bear.

  18. Makom Hamilah?? I feel sad for this rabbi that he finds his own body so shameful–so clearly NOT a Torah teaching.

  19. tnspr569 says:

    If a child is G-d forbid molested, how on earth would he or she be able to describe what happened if they don’t know the actual names of the body parts involved? And if the kids get the message that these body parts are somehow dirty and/or shameful, then it makes it that much more difficult for the children to speak about the subject when necessary.

    Heck, if a kid is having any sort of medical issue in this realm, how will they be able to describe the issue to their parents and/or doctor?

    • HaDassah says:

      You make some excellent points. It saddens me that kids can grow up not knowing the right names for every part of their anatomy.

  20. Great story. Go mama bear, HaDassah!

  21. Tziporah says:

    I love that you stood up for your son. It’s important that kids learn that what is private is not necessarily dirty or bad.

  22. Aliza says:

    I would like to know how you came to be aware of what the Rabbi actually DID call his penis… :-)

    LOVE YOU!!!

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