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The language only parents can speak

By Debbie Farmer / April 23, 2001



People warned me that, once I had children, things would change. They told me all about sleepless nights and endless diaper changes. They filled me in on pacifiers, and how nothing in my life would ever be the same. But no one dared to tell me the whole truth of it: That having children would affect my vocabulary.

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Back in college, I discussed important world issues in a coherent, sophisticated manner. But now, after eight years of raising two children, I hear myself saying things like, "You come now here!"

And it's not just me.

One day, when we were visiting my relatives, my sister-in-law Donna, an intelligent person who has a master's degree in psychology, called out to her children, "Eat now stop play you!" And I understood exactly what she meant.

But what's funny is how automatic this new way of speaking is. One day, it seems, you're an articulate, childless person with a corner office and a window. The next day you find yourself in a park surrounded by children, muttering things that no English speaker has ever heard spoken.

In fact, my last conversation with a childless person was right after I'd stayed up all night with a teething toddler. It went something like:

She: Do you think the change of political party in the White House will affect the balance of the national economy, and possibly wipe out Social Security as we know it?

Me: Nah.

She: And don't you agree that what the government needs to do is put regulations on risky investments to prevent an inevitable downturn of the stock market from bankrupting millions of short-term investors?

Me: Yeyawh, fop nitty noop.

Suddenly I was met with the kind of stare usually reserved for naked people running through the street. But, let's face it, what I really meant to say was "Exactly, as long as restrictions don't cause upheaval in the world market and upset the balance of the national economy." And I'm sure I don't have to tell you that if she were a parent, she would've known this.

Of course, I occasionally have good moments when I have the mental energy to string together two complete thoughts into a whole sentence, and I feel positively glib. But those moments don't last, and I inevitably fall back to my inarticulate ways.

So you can't blame me for seeking out people I can relate to. In fact, the other day I was startled when a well-dressed woman standing in front of me at the grocery store said to the clerk, "How much is that blue thingamabob hanging next to the wood whatchamacallit?" and I immediately felt at ease . I knew I was in the company of a fellow mother.

Oh, I know that having a limited vocabulary has drawbacks, but it can be quite useful. For instance, since you no longer need to worry about irrelevant things like the English language, you'll have more energy for getting your toddler dressed and shoveling out your good silverware from the bottom of the sandbox. Plus, few people can argue with you, because no one can figure out what you're talking about.

But, I must admit, deep down I'm worried about the kind of example I'm setting for my children. After all, I want them to grow up to be articulate, successful adults.

Then, the other day, my almost 9-year-old put her arms around me and said, "Ta for the jiggy necklace, Mom. You're way phat." She kissed me on the cheek and headed for her room. "Peace out."

All I could say was "thanks." But I tried to say it nicely.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor