The Language of Motherhood

This week I said the phrase “If you kick that guitar one more time I’m going to take away your shoes AND your monkey!!”

I said this because my minivan broke down and the Honda dealership very kindly gave me an Accord to drive in the meantime. It was a bit smaller than my Odyssey and the valet key I was given would not open the trunk, but it was working.

I proceeded to the carpool lines and picked up four children, with four backpacks, and a guitar. There were also two car seats and, again, a trunk I could not access.  It looked like this:

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Child crushed by guitar, but still holding his lovey

In his defense, the guitar was definitely invading his personal space and it’s not even his guitar.

But my goofy sentence got me thinking about all the other ridiculous phrases I’ve said to my kids over the years.

Things like, “finish your pizza so you can have ice cream.”

Why? Why do I care if you finish your pizza? Is the nutritional value of pizza that much better than the ice cream? Probably not. It’s just a reflex to tell the kid to eat dinner before dessert.

A few years ago I attempted to record some of the weirder (or weirder-because-I-have-to-say-it-more-than-once) phrases that have popped out of my mouth as a mom.

“Don’t lick your alligator!”

Because why wouldn’t you clean your lovey with your tongue like a cat?

“We don’t put our feet in our waffles.”

I know we’re not “dressing” for dinner like the Crawley family, but please.

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Best waffle I have ever eaten. Covered in coconut syrup and macadamia nuts and completely without feet.

“Cover your penis before you begin a conversation with me.”

I have 3 sons. Men like to be naked. Seriously, cover your penis before attempting to chat. Advice for everyone.

“Please don’t get your blood on anyone else.”

Because I’m sorry for your pain, but blood stains.

“We put our shirt on for dinner.”

It is all Downton Abbey up in here.

“Don’t drink your bath water.”

You might get a staph infection or something because I don’t clean the bathtub all that well.

“You may not have any more french fries until you’ve eaten more of your chicken fingers.”

Nutrition is key in our household. Gotta get your ‘fried group’ in.

“Come here so I can hose down your feet.”

We don’t have time for delicious bath water tonight.

“I may not know as much about big cat wrangling as you think I do.”

After the 112th question about what would happen if a tiger got out at the zoo.

“Eat the ones off your shirt before you get another handful.”

We don’t waste food in our household. Have you learned NOTHING about nutrition from me?

“Get your hands out of your meat.”

No euphemisms there. Just literally had his hands stuck in a plate of pulled pork. Why? No clue. My guess is fried okra fox holes in preparation for the coming corn bread assault.

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Eating BBQ with a FORK!

“We don’t put our feet on our friends’ noses.”

That’s a thing that has to be taught to some people.

“Don’t chew on your shirt.”

OK, I know I made you put it on for dinner and that I also told you to eat off of it, but now I need you to get it out of your mouth.

“No fists, just pillows!”

This particular fight resulted in one kid biting the other kid’s ear. Pros? I got to talk about “bite fight” and the reconciliation of a Foot Locker commercial. Con/Interesting side note? Evander Holyfield’s kid was in my daughter’s class that year so I also got to talk about how we probably shouldn’t bring that up at the class party.

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Mr. Holyfield trying to be a regular dad in the corner at a class party while I took a picture of him like a crazy person. Why didn’t I just ask for a pic?  Fail, Sally…just…fail.

“No naked hugging! ARGGGH! No naked WRESTLING!”

I have so many boys.

It’s an odd thing, parenthood. You never exactly know what is going to happen or how you’re supposed to respond, but you’re desperately eager to do it right/well/perfectly.

For me that’s when the funniest, most ridiculous phrases come out. It is also, unfortunately, when I’m most likely to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

In teacher world there’s a concept called the “hidden curriculum.” It’s about all the extra things you wind up teaching children while you’re also teaching them to read and write and remember why Hitler is bad. Some are positives (yay, responsibility) and some are negatives (you know, you can put forth effort even if the assignment isn’t graded, too).

I try to think about the hidden curriculum I’m passing on to my own kids as well. Sure, no one needs to put their feet in their food, but did my tone of voice make it the equivalent of that time I found a kid playing with a pocket knife in bed?

Because, honestly, I’d rather your feet be on the table than you bleed all over your mattress. Those are expensive.

Am I, in my language of motherhood, actually teaching what I mean to teach?

The details are important–public nakedness is culturally frowned upon–but the attitudes and the priorities and the whys of the instructions matter, too.

Am I listening?

Am I helping them to rank their priorities?

Am I growing adult men and women who will be responsible and empathetic and exhibit basic kindness toward others?

And also keep their hands, feet, and bodily fluids to themselves?

How do I guard against the very real lessons that need to be learned–OH MY GOD! Are you eating that gum you found on the street? You HEARD Santa warn Buddy the Elf AGAINST that!!!–becoming background noise that no one hears?

I read somewhere that in order for “time outs” to work, there had to be “time in.” The kid has to care that they are separated from the parent or the activity at hand in order for removal from that activity to matter.

That concept applies to how I speak to my kids as well. Sure, you need to know that property damage will not be tolerated. But you also need to know that I want to hear about your day and listen to your stories and give you hugs often.

The reinforcements I offer wind up being why they listen to the guidance I give. They care what I think because they know I care about them.

For every “don’t do that” and “this is how we do this” and “what were you thinking,” I’m trying to add in an “I am so proud of you for” and “I like the way you” and “I want to hear what you’re thinking about.”

It’s hard. There are more of them than there are of me.  They get on my last nerve.

Right this minute two of them are whisper-wrestling (that’s a thing you do when your mom has already fussed at you to be quiet, but you really need to mess with your brother) and I am trying not to lose my mind on them.

Thus, I will probably yell something eloquent like, “get your hands out of your brother’s shirt! It has slobber on it anyway! Blech.”

Then I will send them outside and think on my words and call them back in for hugs and to hear about what hill they conquered and what armies they destroyed in the back yard.

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Learning teamwork (and possibly infantry tactics) in the backyard.

And we will do it all over and over again until my boys are men and I no longer shout “put that spear down and quit waving it at your sister” out the back door.

And I will still be a mother, but my language will have changed to “tell me more about this girl” and “what do you think of your new boss” and “how can I pray for your family, son.”

And if I am lucky, I will get grandchildren to whom I can say “this is how I taught your mommy not to lick her shoes” and “this is how your daddy learned to eat with a fork” and, hopefully, I will remain fluent in Motherhood for as long as I’ve got left.

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