My heart stopped for a moment when Zoe asked that question after school yesterday.
Deep breath. "Why do you ask?" Zoe told me that kids in her class were talking about what words were really bad, and one little boy spelled out b-a-s-t-a-r-d and told her it was the WORST of all words.
He told her it meant someone who doesn't have a father.
Zoe replied to him, "Well, I don't have a father and I don't know what's so bad about that."
The little boy clammed up, and nothing more was said. Zoe said he wasn't calling her a bastard, they were just talking about bad words. Whew! At least the "stigma" of being "fatherless" hasn't reached her playground yet.
Zoe and I talked about the meaning of the word, and the historical context. I explained that it didn't mean you don't have a father; after all, everyone has a father since it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. There was a time, though, when the law didn't consider a man a father unless he was married to the mother. And having a baby without being married was considered a really bad thing, and people sometimes blamed the child, which was kind of silly, by calling the child "illegitimate" or a "bastard."
I'm glad that Zoe stood up for herself -- she always amazes me! But I wish I didn't have to explain to my ten-year-old the stigma of illegitimacy, of being "fatherless." Sigh.