Words matter. Presumably, this notion first took root in my mind when I was very young and discovered that there were simple words (please, thank you…etc.) that could forward my agenda, much more effectively than throwing myself on the floor and rolling around kicking and screaming, which failed pretty much 100% of the time. (Here, I could go down a completely different path and explain why I think the younger generations feel so damn entitled…but I am in a flippant introspective mood today and will save that sour little tidbit for when I am feeling a bit more older-generation-get-off-my-damn-lawn-ish.) Any-hoo… my personal exploration on the subject of words mattering continued into my teenage years, first with the discovery of the power of swear words and then as a part of my on the job training as a babysitter.
Allow me to explain. I have conceded to my children that everyone who knows at least one swear word will use it at some point in their life. At best, they tend to slip out. They are designed that way. The trick, I told them, is to try their very best to be in control of said words and not to let the words control them (oh…and not to say them anywhere near where I can hear them…because that sh!t will have consequences). Words are powerful. But, If I swear all the time, besides gaining a solid reputation as a potty mouth and thus limiting my invitations to certain places, I will have worn the power of these words down to a dull nub. If, on the other hand, I do my very best not to use these words, when the time comes and I may really need one of them in order to call attention to something…you can bet that the room will go silent when one of those words leaves my delicate lips.
This brings me to the power of words in babysitting. I babysat a lot. I loved doing it! I got paid for playing with children! However, we are talking about children here… and I found out pretty quickly that, like me, they were not always in the best of moods, and did not always wish to comply with the rules or procedures that I was required, by their parents, to inflict upon them. So…what to do when one is in a position of parental power…but lacks the actual authority of a parent. Kids are smart: they knew that, though I was considered in control while watching them, I had nowhere near the punishment arsenal of their parents. It’s not like I could ground them, after all! Yelling would get me nowhere. They could yell just as loud (and sometimes a heck of a lot louder…you know who you are). So, I learned to rely on words and innovation when times got tough. Cleaning up toys became a game of closing my eyes and guessing which toy had been removed from the floor and put away. The infamous silent statue game was played many a time. Infractions were written on toilet paper, which could then be flushed with considerable pomp and circumstance if remedied. This was great practice for what was to come.
Four days ago, a new colorful expression was born into our family. It entered the world to help me deal with what has become Little Man’s inevitable reaction to the first day of new spelling words. With each new adventure I find myself accumulating more and more tinder for the fire pit. Those parenting articles with advice that seemed to work in one instance or with one child turn out to be utterly useless with the next. I have, therefore, decided to embrace the fact that I am flying by the seat of my pants as a mother and to fully employ the tools I built up as a babysitter. Screaming might feel like a release at times, and…if used sparingly like the swear words…it can sometimes be effective (she’s screaming and totally losing her sh!t…Mamma must truly mean business this time BRUSH YOUR FREAKING TEETH AND LET’S GET THE HELL INTO BED!). However, it always leaves that feeling of shame over losing control and seldom allows for any sentiment of satisfaction…as well as often scaring the bejeezus out of one’s significant other….
Words matter…and so does the delivery and the context of those words. Creativity also matters…and I would propose that it may matter more now with children than ever in the past. Parents, we need to up our game! Take a look at the competition! Have you seen the crap they are watching on YouTube??? “My children don’t watch the YouTube,” you say? Well, maybe not when you can see them…. It has gotten to the point where I feel that I could live in the middle of a primeval forest kilometers away from civilization and some bear…who previously invaded a camp site…would walk up to my cabin and hack up an iPad that my children would then find, and they would then proceed to coincidentally click on that seemingly innocent, but actually devious, little white triangle bathing in its little red square…. Anyway…I have had to up my game to get…and hold their attention.
With my Moon…it was a note she found on her ever open drawer…supposedly penned by said drawer…begging her to please keep it shut and explaining its suffering at hanging there open. With my Sun it was the reset button that resided in her hair on the back of her head. One little tap while simultaneously commanding “reset!” would usually snap her back to attention. (And, before you call Child Protective Services, as I had to explain when she gleefully told one of her teachers that if she got out of line…no problem! She had a reset button on the back of her head, …the key word is tap.) Little Man is a bit of a conundrum. He is a challenging mix of my Moon and my Sun. I find that when he is being completely unreasonable, I am most likely to get his attention with a ridiculous, but sensible (tough balance to strike, I admit) statement that gets him thinking and allows me my window to instruct.
The boy loses it the first time he sees his new spelling words…EVERY first time he sees his new spelling words…which is insane, because he almost always gets 100% on his tests by the end of the week. So, Monday, when he pulled the new list out of his pack, I knew darned well that we were in for a bumpy ride. Sure enough, the tears began and the eye-rubbing, and the head down on top of the paper, as I asked him to look them over.
“You are acting like a butt,” I said. (Notice how I used that word that so annoys me when it comes out of his mouth: the one that makes him giggle uncontrollably even when it isn’t even the one with two “t”s.) Now, I had his attention.
“It isn’t nice to call someone a butt,” he informed me.
“I didn’t call you a butt,” I explained. “I said that you are acting like a butt.”
I could see that the fact that I had now said the word multiple times was amusing, confusing, and concerning him all at the same time. I jumped at the opening. “In fact,” I asserted, “you seem to be in butt mode right now. Please shift out of butt mode so that we can go over your words and help you do well on your test. You do want to do well on your test, don’t you?”
He nodded…because he really did want to do well on his test…and because he was maybe a little thrown by the fact that, instead of losing it… I had rallied,… and said butt, and he looked at the list.
“Have you shifted out of butt mode?” I inquired. “Are you ready to try to spell your words?”
Though there were a few moans and grunts as he spelled his words out for the first time, he had most definitely shifted out of butt mode and was much more pleasant to teach…and a new and colorful…and ever so slightly unorthodox…expression had been born into our household…its presence solidified the moment he used it on one of The Sisters later that same day…when she had slipped into butt mode….