Tag Archives: language

Relics: Artifacts My Daughter Doesn’t Know How to Use

Trigger warning: I’m going to refer to some racially offensive language (and high fat content foods) in here.

“Why does every show start with the stuff we JUST WATCHED on the last show?” Vivi asked me in frustration. She was several episodes deep into the Transformers.

“Well, sweetie,” I chuckled, “back in the OLDEN DAYS before Netflix, TV shows only came on once a week or once a day, so they did that to remind you what had happened last time.”

In a world of binge-watching streaming video and On Demand cable TV, my daughter has never needed the “On our last episode…” recap to pick up the thread of a show. We had discovered a relic.

  1. an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
  2. an object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.

She is growing up in a different kind of life, a life where recaps are “now outmoded.”

This has not been lost on my family. I remember when she was about 3 and we were all sitting around the dining room table at Daddy and Gay’s house. Her Uncle James looked at Vivi across the table and blurted, “That child does not know how to eat a drumstick.”

Every head turned to witness Vivi gripping her fried chicken leg by the meaty end while she gnawed for purchase on the bony little knobbly end. My firstborn, not one generation removed from walking out into the backyard to procure a chicken for the frying pan, didn’t know which end of the drumstick was the handle.

Daddy was aghast. “Don’t you feed this baby CHICKEN?”

I rotated the drumstick in her hand and Vivi bit into the meat like she had struck gold. “Of course I do! It just…doesn’t have any bones in it.” I bake chicken breasts or chicken tenders or chicken nuggets. I don’t cook non-specific chicken parts chicken. I don’t fry it. And I sure as hell don’t cut it up.

Daddy set his own drumstick down on the edge of his plate. “How do you make STOCK if you don’t have a carcass???” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t make stock, I don’t own Crisco, and I have never in my life cooked a dumpling. And as God is my witness, I will never be hungry enough to mess with giblets.

That night taught me that drumsticks, a staple of my life, might be a relic for my daughter. An object of purely sentimental interest.

She figured out the business end of a drumstick.

She eventually figured out the business end of a drumstick.

So many things that are normal to me don’t really make sense to her. The other night we were out of body wash at bath time. I handed her a bar of $8 goat’s milk and honey soap that I get special for myself from the farmer’s market. This child who is in the gifted program at school did not even know how to work up bubbles with a bar of soap–all she could do was stare at it and chase after it every time it slipped out of her hand. She sat there in the tub with her Mr. Bubble, Kidz 2-in-1 Shampoo, a pink sponge…and a relic.

Photographic evidence of how little my children know about bar soap.

Photographic evidence of how little my children understand bar soap.

Remember that story from last summer when she was away at camp and I couldn’t wait to get a letter? Then when it arrived I realized that I had never taught my daughter how to use an envelope, so an unsealed envelope was all I received? She has two different email accounts in fourth grade and takes coding classes but doesn’t know that you have to lick the envelope to make it hold the letter inside. Envelopes are from an earlier time.



My kids don’t know what a phone book is, much less how you can use the Atlanta Yellow Pages as a booster seat when you are eating fried chicken around your Grandmama Eunice’s Sunday table (but you better wash those hands first and use SOAP).

Relics. I get sad when I consider how differently my children are growing up. We had it pretty good, what with the drumsticks and the rotary phones and the weekly episodes and the Ivory soap that was so pure it floats.

But it’s not all wistful memorializing of my glorious past that she won’t ever experience. Some relics are signs that we are making real progress.

Like the day Vivi and I went to a Sunday afternoon showing of Hidden Figures. We had seen the preview at Moana so she recognized the early scene of the three women repairing their broken down car. Vivi leaned over to me in the dark and whispered, “Three neh-GRO women chasing a white police officer…”

From "Hidden Figures"

From “Hidden Figures”

I didn’t understand her at first and said, “Huh?” with one eye still on the screen.

“Remember when the lady says ‘Three neg-ROW women chasing a policeman…'”

“Oh right!” I laughed quietly with her and nodded. She went back to watching the movie while I had to put my hand on my heart and catch my breath for a second.

My Georgia-born-and-raised daughter doesn’t know how to pronounce “Negro.” That word is a relic to her.

I read somewhere that you shouldn’t make fun of a person who mispronounces a word because it means that they learned it by reading instead of by hearing it. I’m sure Vivi has read “Negro” in books, but she’s never heard it in conversation while sitting around her grandmama’s table at Sunday lunch.

By the time I was her age, I had heard enough to distinguish the difference between Negro, n*gger, nigra, black, colored, redbone, high yellow, and blue gum. And that was from listening to mostly nice people talk.

We didn’t say n*gger in my family, not even in the older generations. Only coarse people used that word. My grandparents said “colored” or “nigra.” After my wedding to Fartbuster, I blanched when my grandmother–a self-taught painter–recounted a delightful conversation about painting she had had with “that nigra art professor” at the reception. “His name is VINCENT!” I scolded her. Grandmama didn’t understand why I was getting worked up. Mom reminded me that, for their era, using “nigra” was polite.

Not good enough for me. I lived in the modern world and their terms were relics. The world changed around them, yet they held on to their words. My beloved great aunt even coined an adjectival form: when I bought my first car, she said, “I wouldn’t buy a red car. It’s too nigra-ish.”

The one and only time I got my mouth washed out–speaking of soap–involved these n-words. Coming home from school one day when I was 5 or 6, one of the older boys dared me to say n*gger. I didn’t do it then, but once we got home, I said the word within earshot of Quicker, who looked after us. My memory of the event may be hazy, but my memory of the taste of Ivory soap is 99 44100% Pure, because my mama soaped up a blue wash cloth and had me sit there and suck on it until I had learned my lesson.

I did learn my lesson that day. Flash forward 40-something years to that dark theater, where my daughter puts the accent on the wrong syllable of Negro. I felt something move, something shift across generations. One word. It’s such a small thing, but it gives me hope.



Vivi got an “Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook” for Christmas. It’s a lovely deckle-edged tome of completely indirect references to the books paired with public domain recipes for traditional British foods. The recipe she wanted to make today was called “Queen Victoria’s Soup.” I read the whole series pretty thoroughly and couldn’t remember an appearance by Queen Victoria (or specifically soup). The note attached to the recipe read like: “Remember in that scene when Ron has a chill and says that soup would be good right about now? Here are 9 recipes for soup…yay, Harry Potter!”

At least the recipe only called for two ingredients that I didn’t have on hand: pearled barley and heavy whipping cream. Could anything SOUND more like Queen Victoria–fat and pearls? One quick trip to the grocery store and we were in business.

I pulled the tab off the carton of chicken stock and handed it to Vivi. I rotated the big Pyrex measuring cup so that she could see the markings and put on my best Mother Of the Year Finds a Teachable Moment voice. “OK, we need six cups but this only goes up to four. How many more cups will we need to add? Two, right! So if this is 4 of the 6 cups, what fraction is that? Go ahead and pour it to the four.”

And that’s the moment when I learned a messy lesson.

Vivi held the carton of chicken stock about two feet above the measuring cup then flipped the spout straight down. Chicken stock plummeted into the Pyrex cylinder, described a parabolic arc around the inside then rushed right back over the rim and all over the counter before I could even say, “Careful!”

She jumped away from the mess like it had scalded her. “Sorry sorry sorry sorry!”

My heart squeezed up. She’s been doing this a lot lately–apologizing madly if I correct her in any way. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. That’s the last word I want my daughter to practice. We all need to learn how to apologize when we’re at fault, but that kneejerk “Sorry!” that women overuse isn’t the same thing.

I’ve tried to talk to her about the “sorrying” in a couple of ways, but tonight I think I hit on the right word.

“Sweetie, this isn’t something hurtful that requires a ‘sorry.’ This is an accident while learning how to do something new, so how about ‘Oops!'”

Vivi laughed and tried it out, “OOPS!” That giggling word was music to my mothering ears and my heart unclenched an inch. When she and I are learning together, I don’t want SORRY to be the word she associates with me.

I worry at least once a day that I’m using the wrong words with her, that I’m screwing this mothering thing up, that I’m making a gigantic mess. I feel like I should say “Sorry! I don’t know what I’m doing!” when maybe what I should really say is “Oops! Learning this as I go along!”

I hope you’ll listen for “Sorry!” and see if “Oops!” might serve you better.

P.S. – The soup was terrible, but it was a valiant attempt at something new that devolved into a bland white mess. At least it was a mess we made together. Kinda like life.

Try this next time you want to say "Sorry!"

Try this next time you want to say “Sorry!”

Blind Spots and Fish

TDS_Image_17This weekend, I learned that nothing improves my driving like a 15 year old in the passenger seat. The girls and I took a road trip to Wesleyan and Victoria rode shotgun. She’s preparing to take the learner’s permit test so she’s paying attention.

Knowing that she was watching, and being on my best behavior so that I modeled only good practices…well, it helped me see my own mistakes through new eyes. I used cruise control to keep my speed within the posted limit. I only looked at my phone at long red lights. Hands at 10 and 2. No fiddlin’ with the radio.

I signaled any and every lane change and I looked over my shoulder for good measure, even if the mirrors showed all clear.  My mother taught me to drive and she made the point over and over that whatever was happening behind me was just as important as what was happening in front of me. She taught me about blind spots–how people will sometimes ride in that spot that the mirror doesn’t show. How it’s my responsibility to turn my head and check, even if I’ve already checked the mirror.

So…I’ve been thinking about blind spots a lot this week. About how easy it is to crash into someone because you’re cruising along in your blind spot and forget to look, forget to take the responsibility to check twice and really SEE the people around you.

It’s so easy to get convinced that the angle from which I see the world is not even an angle–it’s the center.

In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College about the ceaseless challenge of living a life of empathy. The speech was later published under the title “This Is Water.” The title is taken from the opening story:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”


Portrait of a fishI can’t get that image out of my mind–the difficulty of seeing that which surrounds us. The difficulty of seeing what we ARE IN from any angle other than where we are.

Blind spots and fish. They’re all tangled up in my mind with the idea of privilege and some of the verbal gaffes that have made the news this week (Giuliana Rancic insulting Zendaya Coleman’s locs, Patricia Arquette creating an “us/not us” dichotomy, a news reporter in Cleveland calling Lady Gaga’s style “jigaboo music”…good grief, people!). Sometimes we open our mouths and say things without checking to see if we have a blind spot. Talking can be just as dangerous as driving. It requires checking our mirrors, figuring our moves before we make them, then looking again over our shoulder, just to be sure.

I’ve Never Heard Such Arrogance

arroganceJust typing that word in the title makes me physically uncomfortable. All the energy in my body goes right up to the surface, like my skin is lifting up to be on the lookout. And that leaves a hollowness in the center of me. All from invoking the word “arrogant.”

I’ve been wanting to write this post and explore these feelings for a couple of weeks now, ever since Seth Godin sent this little ponderable to my inbox:

In search of arrogance

Do you care enough to believe in things that seem unreasonable?

Do you believe in…

your people,

your project,

your endeavor so deeply that others find your belief arrogant now and then?

If your standard is to never be called arrogant, you’ve probably walked away from your calling.

Gut punch. That word was used to hurt me twenty something years ago and it burrowed under my skin and festered there ever since, making me continually question my belief in myself.

It was Thanksgiving, back when I was in grad school, so I already had one degree in English and I was working on a second. The whole family gathered at my grandparents’ house for lunch. My cousin and I stood in the hallway outside the kitchen. We were teasing each other and I said something along the lines of, “There ain’t a thang in the world we can do fer y’now!” in the heaviest country accent I could muster.

Behind me, I heard my grandmother scoff. Then she grabbed my upper arm and interjected: “AIN’T? All that fancy college education and you don’t know any better than to say ain’t?” She was smiling when she said it.

I answered her, my arm still in a pinch, and I was smiling too: “I think of it as poetic license–I’ve proven that I am thoroughly familiar with English and I certainly know how to speak it properly, so now I’m free to choose words for their effect when I want to.”

Her face changed instantly into a furious snarl. “I have NEVER heard such arrogance!” She shoved my arm away, turned on her heel and stomped off.

And every bit of my tender heart wanted to say, “You started it.”  But I didn’t. My cousin and I exchanged shocked looks with lifted eyebrows then wandered off to another part of the house.

That should have been that, but it wasn’t.

anchorman-ron-burgundySo if I speak up for myself, I’m arrogant? If I use words from my new life back in my old one, I’m arrogant? My grandmother was furious in that moment that I had sassed her. I stayed quietly furious for twenty five years because she had insulted me.

The problem with a poisonous fury like this one is that the poison stayed inside my own head. I’ve been living my life with the fear of being called arrogant. I can’t even claim the things that I HAVE achieved because I’m afraid I’ll be called arrogant. I’m working on it but it’s a process (Year 15 and we’re making some progress…).

Earlier this week, I was offered an opportunity to do a speaking engagement. It tooks some chutzpah to accept it and I’m really excited about it. Then my imposter syndrome flared up. Who am I to talk to a crowd of strangers? Are they sure I’m qualified? This must be a mistake.

I had to send a few snippets for my bio. I wrote:

  • I handle internal communications for a healthcare system.
  • I serve as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association, the nation’s oldest alumnae association.
  • My blog, Baddest Mother Ever, is part of the BlogHer publishing network and I was selected as a 2014 Voice of the Year.

Before I could hit Send, I stared at the list and thought, “Huh. Maybe I am qualified to go talk to some people about some things.”

I stared at the little list until I felt CONFIDENT instead of arrogant.

Like Seth Godin says, you have to be so confident, so audacious in the pursuit of your dream, that some might call you arrogant. That’s on them, not you.

My therapist and I talked about this old story and she pointed me toward the idea of external validation and internal validation. Back when we met, she reminded me that I put most of my energy towards external validation–finding someone to tell me I was OK. The longer I live and the more I work on being comfortable in my life, my focus moves towards internal validation–I can tell me that I am OK.

On that Thanksgiving day, I was a young adult. Just getting my own legs under me. Growing confident in the work I was doing–teaching writing and studying linguistics. When I defended my poetic license, my grandmother could have said, “Well ain’t YOU fancy!” and acknowledged it as banter. She could have said, “That’s true. I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and met me as an equal. Instead, she reacted to my temerity by cutting my legs out from under me.

It seems that once you integrate all the wisdom and experience of growing up, you can let insults and misunderstandings bounce off without letting someone else’s idea of you become your idea of you. I believe this school of thought can be summed up in, “I’m rubber, you’re glue…what you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” That will be $150.

So I hereby release the word “arrogant” back out into the universe. It holds no power over me.

Good riddance, because I got things to DO. Big things. Bold things. Scary things. Growing things.

In other words, I ain’t got time for narrythang what wants to hold me back.

Do you have a word that rankles and festers and burrows? (Those are some damn fine words right there, huh? I know my synonym shit.) Share your word in the comments!


Portuguese Has a Word for This Feeling


Here’s a gift to you from G today. It’s pronounced “sow-dah-day.” Portuguese is the only language that has a noun for this feeling.

Take this word and tuck it into your heart. If you are missing someone, remember the joy and let it propel you.

I’m Going to FIX This.

memory“Point to the picture of something we eat.”  Carlos pointed to the picture in the middle of a set of three and said, “Apple!”

“Which one do we wear?”  He pointed to the right one in the next row and said, “Hat!”

“Show me an animal.”  He chirped, “Frog!” and pointed to the right card.

“Something we ride?”  “Scooter!”

I shuffled the array of Memory cards on the dining room rug.  “Carlos–find something we have at a birthday party.”  He searched through the rows of pictures.  “Pwesents!”

“Wonderful!  Can you find something else that we have at birthday parties?”  I tried to light up the little picture of balloons with the power of my stare.  He didn’t notice it.  Finally, after he had lost interest in that question, I said, “How about the balloons?  We have balloons at birthday parties.”  He grabbed up the balloon card and pressed it together with the picture of presents.  “Ballooooooons!”

I looked up to find that G was watching us from the doorway.  He had gone in to work for a few hours while I stayed home with Carlos.  I told him, “Hey, watch this!”

I pulled a little alphabet abacus kind of toy over to Carlos and said, “Carlos?  What letter is this?”

“B!  Buh-buh-buh…”

“Yes!  What letter is this?”

“F!  Fuh-fuh-fuh…”  His attention wandered back to the Memory cards. The toy has a little row of people at the bottom, each with a different numeral from 1-10 and a different facial expression.

“Carlos?  Can you find someone who is sad?”  He looked up and down the row then poked an image of a girl with a downturned mouth and a tear spouting from her eye.  “Nine!”

“Yes!  Good job!  Can you find someone who looks angry?” He considered carefully then answered, “Six!”  Yep.  That boy’s eyebrows came together in a sharp V shape and his mouth was a straight line.

“Yes!  He looks angry.  Can you find a silly boy?”  He pointed to 10 and mimicked the way the boy was sticking his tongue out of the side of his mouth.

That made G laugh. Carlos hopped up from the rug and ran to give G a hug.  That was my sign that our game had come to an end. After Carlos wandered off into the den with the stack of Memory cards crammed into a circus train caboose, G gave me a hug and asked if I was OK.

I said, “I read that report from his last evaluation and got a little nervous about today.” “REALLY?”  G snickered and nodded at the dining room.

In the two hours he had been gone, I had turned it into a learning lab.  We had played hide and seek in the big cardboard box (cooperative play).  We had played Memory (receptive language).  We had stacked objects into the train cars (fine motor) and climbed in out around and through the box (gross motor).  And all of this while he was bare ass nekkid because it is TIME to get this potty training thing locked up.  I even had Sesame Street playing in the other room for good measure.  I had the day off and I WAS GOING TO FIX THIS.  Whatever it is.

Remember that story I wrote a while back about Carlos having some kind of speech issue–“How Could I Have Missed This?”  Today was Chapter Two.  Today was the day we took Carlos to the Marcus Autism Center for testing.  There–I said it.  I said the A-Word.

And guess what?

Maybe, maybe not.  If so, not very.

Because, y’know, he’s three and it’s hard to tell at this age.

In the end, the conclusion was “Keep up the good work.”  And we’ll go back in six months and see a developmental pediatrician.  By then I will either have chilled out a little, or sold the dining room table to buy more flashcards.

As his mom, I am going to do everything in my power to get him what he needs.  And I’m going to do everything in my power to understand what is–and isn’t–in my power.  

Little Old WHAT?


THIS is a "granny."

THIS is a “granny.”

My writer friend Chris taught me a lesson this week and I appreciated her opening my eyes.  Because, like most lessons, it came right back to bite me in the butt within 48 hours.

On Monday, I wrote that story “Shine Through” about my return to Wesleyan for Alumnae Weekend.  In it, I made an offhand reference to “eavesdropping on a couple of little old ladies.”  Chris emailed me later that day and said,

“Hey, I think we’re good enough friends for me to say this.  (We are.)  ‘Little old ladies?’  Think about removing that from your vocabulary.  It’s talking in stereotypes.  Would you call me that?”

Now, for the record, Chris IS somewhat of an authority on this because she is an actual five-foot-tall woman who has been celebrating birthdays since 1932.  So technically, someone could look at her and think little + old + lady.  But that someone would be seeing an idea of her, not her.


I replied, “Of course I wouldn’t call YOU that!  You’re a badass.”  This woman is funny and smart and iron-jawed and gentle and fierce and kind.  She’s had her heart broken beyond measure.  She was a computer programmer when that was a man’s game.  She’s a grandmother to two of the coolest kids in the world.  She’s facing a tough Mother’s Day this year because her daughter died in the fall.  She knits.  She doesn’t cook.  She writes stories.  She’s a breast cancer survivor.  She’s my friend.

If you saw her toodling down the street in her big ole Buick, white curls blowing in the breeze and a sensible sweater over her shoulders, you wouldn’t know all those things about her.

Sure, “little old lady” isn’t the worst thing you can call someone, but it’s dismissive in a thoughtless way.  It doesn’t see the real person, just the stereotype.  That’s why I thanked Chris for saying something.

And then came the aforementioned biting of the butt.  Two moments happened to me this week that had me thinking about age and the assumptions we make based on it.

The first moment happened at that same Wesleyan reunion.  After the big meeting, my classmate Tara and I were standing on the front porch talking in the sunshine.  As people came and went, I spoke to just about everyone.  Gave some directions.  Answered questions about events.  Near us, an alumna sat in one of the rocking chairs.  At one point, she reached out for my arm and asked, “Are you a student?”

Oh, how Tara and I laughed!  My first thought was that I was just so darn cute and charming that she thought I was still a teenager. Easy mistake to make!  I leaned closer to her so she could see my gray hair and said, “Good grief, no!  I’m 45 years old!”  I giggled a girlish little giggle.

She flapped her hand at me and said, “Oh, well…I’m blind.”


That explains it.  I owe my youthful charm to macular degeneration.

The second thing that got me thinking about age happened yesterday.  We had that awful windstorm in the early morning so trees were down all over town.  Carlos’ day care had to close because they had no power.  He and I had an impromptu adventure day together.  We came home from our trip to the library to discover that two fire trucks were parked on our street, just a couple of doors down.  We wandered over to see what was going on.  A tree had fallen onto a power line and caused some sparking, so the fire fighters were babysitting it (their words!) until the power company could get there.  We had one 3-year-old boy who likes fire trucks right there with six bored fire fighters, a fire truck that still smelled like smoke from an earlier call, and a gigantic hook and ladder truck.  Carlos was in heaven!

Those men were so sweet to my boy.  Carlos doesn’t like loud noises, so he stood there the whole time with his hands over his ears, worried that the siren was going to surprise him.  One man opened the doors of the truck, showed Carlos the hatch on the front that holds the nozzle, even offered to let him sit in the driver’s seat.  Carlos just said, “No!” and “Wow!”  It was precious.  One of the older fire fighters and I were talking about the whole fear of loud sounds thing.  He said his granddaughter doesn’t even like it when his cows get to mooing.

Anywho…after a while they got the word that one truck could leave.  So the nice fire fighter looks at Carlos and says, “Ask Granny to take you back in the yard now!”


Excuse me?

GRANNY???  It’s not the first time someone has mistaken me for Carlos’ grandmother.  I do have silver hair and an imperious bosom.  But DANG.  Do I look like a GRANNY?  Maybe a “Mimi” or a “Nana” or something sassy like “Gigi” or “GaGa” but GRANNY???


Who does he think I am, some little old lady?



Get to know Chris better through this wonderful blog post:  “Child of the Thirties.”  It even has pictures!