I am certain that my children have no idea what I am saying at any given time. I sometimes wonder if I’m caught in some kind of Quantum Leap scenario in which I’m in an alternate time or space and just haven’t realized it yet. In this alternate universe, I think I’m speaking clear, intelligible English, but in reality, I’m just blathering on in some strange Martian tongue that no one else knows. I kind of understood this when my kids were little. After all, their vocabulary was limited to colors, fruits and an impressive area of barnyard animal sounds. But as they’ve gotten older, I’m running out of excuses.
The other day, one of my darling quasi-humans looked at me and said, “Ugh. Mom. You yell at us ALL the time.” I felt like this was highly unfair, as I do not, in fact, yell all the time. It’s just that they don’t hear me the first five times I say it nicely, which leads me to believe they are either hard of hearing or they simply choose to ignore me. It doesn’t matter how many times I ask nicely in my Carol Brady voice, the only thing that actually gets through to them is my Darth Vader voice. And it’s not pretty.
So I was thinking about this conundrum (which can be read as “I was in a frantic state of worry, because, oh my god, do I yell at them all the time? Have I become that mom? Am I really just a stressed out, shrieking harpy?”), and I came to two important conclusions.
First, they are not hard of hearing. Rather, they are walking, talking Google translate apps. Everything that comes in is then translated into a language that they can understand. Secondly, they are not ignoring me. They are simply following through with their translation of whatever it is that I have said.
The fact that things only get done after I start yelling is because yelling is the key to breaking the translation app. It’s kind of like when you ask Siri, “Where is the nearest grocery store?” and she responds with, “I have found fearless roasting stones for you on the web.” It’s not until you’re yelling that she gets it. And by then, you’ve already driven past three grocery stores.
In thinking about the difference between what I say and what my kids hear (translate my strange mother language into), I came up with a few of my favorite, and most predictable scenarios.
What I say: “We are leaving in five minutes.”
What they hear: “Please lose one, if not both, of your shoes immediately, then, because there is more than enough time to watch at least one more episode of whatever is on The Disney Channel,” turn on every TV in the house.”
What I say: “Please be quiet, I am on the phone.”
What they hear: “If you have any major questions about the origins of the universe, would like to make life plans, have an injury – no matter how minor – and would like to discuss it at length, then now is the time to do it. Also, please hit your sister, or at the very least scream at her for taking your nail polish/shirt/shoes/hairbrush or any combination of the items just listed while standing as close to me as possible.”
What I say: “Please vacuum the family room.”
What they hear: “I’m just kidding, so don’t even bother getting up. But should you decide to get up after I’ve asked several times, please know that I’ve hidden the vacuum cleaner in a secret hiding place that only I know. If you choose to undertake a lengthy, and ultimately, fruitless search for it, please don’t start until you’ve given me at least one lengthy dramatic monologue about how you are the only one that has to do any chores around here, including at least three specific examples of how your sisters do nothing.”
What I say: “I’m going to take a shower.”
What they hear: “Despite the fact that MY bathroom is in MY room and I am the only one that uses it, just assume that I will be hoarding everything you own (to include clothes, make-up and/or school books) in there with me for the duration of my shower. Should you need any of these things, you are highly encouraged to stand at the door screaming unintelligibly until I get out of the shower, with shampoo still in my hair, and open the door for you. We can then spend a minimum of five minutes discussing the exact location of everything you have ever owned, currently own or will one day own while I stand dripping, wrapped in a towel. Encourage your sisters to wait just long enough for me to get back in the shower before they take their turn.”
What I say: “It’s 17 degrees outside. Please put on your coat.”
What they hear: “I hate you. That is all.”
I could go on, of course, but I’m sure you get the point. I have been trying to figure out when, exactly, we might all start speaking the same language. I have a feeling it’s going to be awhile. After all, they say the best way to learn a new language is complete immersion. And this gives me hope. Hope that one day, I’ll talk to my girls on the phone and hear their children in the background explaining in detail the origin, potential dangers and ultimate agony of that teeny tiny scratch on their forearm – and all the while my daughters will be asking them to please be quiet while they’re on the phone. Their children will have no idea what they’re saying, of course, but I’ll understand them perfectly. And no one will even have to yell.