Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tweenage Word Police

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One of the problems stemming from my stern grammatical upbringing is friendly chats are rendered neigh impossible. My parents both spoke, and speak, with a precision and depth few can match. They choose their words carefully and for maximum effect. Mom and Dad could rip steel to shreds with their words or plant flowers of prose.

As a family, we were, and are, vigilant about grammatical and pronunciation mistakes. We pounce on every misspoken word, every improperly used pronoun. No one is immune. Nothing passes our ears. We hear every little thing. And we will correct you. Yes. We will mock you unceasingly. It gives us great pleasure. In fact, many of our mistakes have entered the family lexicon; newcomers to our little grammar party may indeed not understand a word we say.

This admittedly annoying familial habit has made its way into my own family, our children being proud, card-carrying members of the word police. If you think your kids aren't listening to you, try making a mistake in speaking. I personally guarantee you will be corrected. By them. In an unfriendly tone. Children correcting their parents makes for uncomfortable family dinners.

I confess to the deadly sin of pride about my childrens' vocabulary. Except. For the past year, we've had a recurring language debate with our eldest, who can, in fact, word us under the table. (She once told me she would explain something to me using small words. She's 12).When we ask her to do something, or to NOT do something, or have a conversation and want some signal from our angsty tween, we expect, and rightly so, some kind of acknowledgment. We get this, "Okay." Or "Okay!" Or "OKAY." Parents, I know you hear the difference.

When one is used to precise language, "okay," as a reply means very little. Does she mean she understands, or that she's walking away, or that she hates our parental guts? IDK. (She is constantly surprised that I am hip to text lingo.) So then we say, "No. It's not okay." To which she replies, "You know what I mean." And then we say, "No. We don't know what you mean." Then she rolls her eyes and stalks, storms or saunters away and we throw up our flummoxed hands with heavy sighs.

We find ourselves walking this line like drunken sailors; as parents we are unsure of ourselves with this nearly teen-aged girl, but we know her and love her and want the best for her. As a nearly teen-aged girl, I'm sure she's feeling many things of which she is not sure. She is aware at least of her verbal double standard that allows her the luxury of correcting mistakes but not being called on her own.

We wonder how much do we push back, how much slack do we let out, how long do we let the eye rolling make our skin itch? We wonder if she can smell our fear: our fear of her growing up and walking her path and becoming who more of who she is every day. It's not an unreasonable fear, tempered as it is with confidence in her ability to make good choices, good friends, and certainly good sentences.

What does "okay" mean? No idea.


  1. DJ: Oh. Chase isn't here. Then I'll just correct myself.

  2. Okay, good to know. I'm not AT ALL nervous about Friday now. I've spent years with an MR adult and a dog. I'm happy that I can still form basic sentences. Well, Twitter killed even that. I no longer have any use for articles. I send emails to my boss without a, an, the and you're is spelled your.

    Be kind to me ... :)