This is the funniest/scariest/saddest thing that I've ever witnessed in my daughter's classroom:
I was volunteering in my daughter Callie's k4 class one afternoon, and it was nearing the end of the day and we were all having Circle Time. Mrs. Harrigan* had just read a story, and as she finished she glanced up at the clock and said "Wow, friends! I can't believe we have a few extra minutes! This never happens to us! Can you believe it, friends??" (I'll vouch for this one: as a mother of three, I can tell you we are never, ever running on time, much less early. So just imagine trying to keep a classroom of 23 four and five year olds running on time. I spent the entire year admiring the woman, frankly, because if I'd been her, I would have been hitting the vodka bottle every day before lunch.)
So she was amazed, hands on her hips while we all exclaimed how incredulous we felt that we were ahead of schedule. Murmurs of amazement went up from the crowd, and as silence settled over us again, Nathan* threw his hands in the air and yelled "Yeah, WHAT THE HELL?"
A shocked gasp erupted from every single kid in that classroom. I was terrified. My hands were shaking, two little girls beside me nearly started to cry, and DeeDee*, in a hushed and rather awed voice, whispered "that's a bad word." I thought we'd all be sent straight to the principal's office. I was scared. Would she call my parents? Would I have to stand in the corner? Would she hold me back next year? I think two little trembling girls near me wet their pants because somehow our mere presence in the face of such disobedience made us complicit in his horrible crime.
Mrs. Harrigan looked at Nathan with eyes narrowed. "What did you say?" she hissed. Nathan whispered "I said 'what the hell.'" I knew that he knew he'd crossed a line. This was an actual cuss word. This wasn't "poop face" or dummybutt." This was a real cuss word. I feared the consequences. Mrs. Harrigan, eyes still narrowed and still whispering, said "That is NOT a word we use at school, Nathan."
By now our early-finish surprise had been ruined; the time it had taken to address this awful crime had used up our precious extra minutes, and it was time to proceed on into the coat room, get our backpacks and sit down criss-cross-applesauce for bus lines and parent pick-ups. The festive and jolly mood had evaporated with the utterance of a simple curse word, and we solemnly walked out into the suddenly less-sunny afternoon to board our buses or take our moms' hands to get in our minivans. Callie held tightly to my hand, and I sat beside her on the school bus, even more determined to protect her from every cuss word in the world.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.