I’m what they call a word person, preferring “viridian” to dreary “green,” and never uttering “confused” when “flummoxed” is within reach.
An English major whose motif-musing and allusion-hunting skills have proven all but useless in the real world, I take admittedly odd delight in the careful craft of sentence-smithing. One of my prized possessions is a tome titled The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, and I fling myself from bed each morning to savor my Word of the Day email from dictionary.com—a wellspring of toothsome terms like numinous, doff, and foofaraw. I challenge myself to use each new word in conversation before the week is over, and just never you mind whether I’m successful or not. The point is I want to.
Which is why I find parenting to be a bit of a bore. As a mother, 87 percent of the sentences that spring from my mouth are vapid. Artless. In fact, they border on asinine. And most of them should go without saying: “Stop hitting yourself.” “Get your jacket out of the peanut butter.” “No spitting in Mommy’s bed.” There’s the perennial, “You must use a tissue for that,” and the all-too-frequent, “Well, would you like it if I called you an oogie bananahead?” I recently heard myself say, “We never, ever lick the bottoms of our shoes.” And I wondered what the devil had become of my dexterity for discourse—let alone my children’s common sense.
I realize that human beings aren’t born with an aptitude for basic hygiene and social etiquette, and mine are no exception. Friends tell me they’ve been shocked to have to articulate these instructions to their offspring: “Stop picking your sister’s nose.” “Please don’t hump your pillow in front of other people.” “Do not throw the cat in there again.”
Others never thought they’d have to say this: “Yes, underwear is a requirement at the dinner table. Particularly when you’re not wearing pants.” Or this: “If you went pee-pee in the bathwater, you probably should not be drinking it.” One mom recently found herself offering this string of seemingly self-evident edicts: “Get your hands out of your pants” … “Get your hands out of her pants” … “Go wash your hands.”
I have faith our kids will memorize all of these rules eventually, and that there will be no need to whisper “stop pulling up your shirt” as they walk down the aisle. (If there is, at least we’ll be able to employ more graceful language by then, such as, “Darling, do refrain from exposing your thorax. It’s entirely inappropriate to both the venue and occasion.”)
Meanwhile, though, I confess I’m disappointed with my role as Declarer of the Dull Directive. Deficient in other motherly assets, I always assumed that my love of language would compensate for my lack of patience and my distaste for holiday handicraft. Indeed, my favorite parenting moments—the few that leave me feeling especially well-equipped for this job—are when my kids ask me to explain an abstract concept like death or sarcasm or sponge cake and I can discharge a chain of images and metaphors that leave them sitting silent, their eyes shifting and unfocused as they process the description, and then lead them to a clear-as-a-windowpane, “Oh!”
So forgive me if spewing phrases like, “Don’t let the dog lick your privates” feels like wasting the paltry parental proficiency I possess. And not just wasting it, either. Squandering! Nay, fribbling it away like so much worthless foofaraw!
I’m sorry. But it had to be said.