Thursday, February 01, 2007


Zip your coat or you’ll catch pneumonia!
Eat your crust; it will make your hair curly.

Finish your dinner; there are kids starving in Europe.

As my mother’s children, we were well versed in ‘Motherspeak.’ She herself grew up understanding Motherspeak; my grandmother’s wisdom was even more colorful. In the pre-Google era of innocence, we tolerated this information with scrutiny, yet the hint of possible truth kept us erring on the side of caution. Mothering in the post Google ‘information age’ has let to the abandonment of some of these hand-me-down gems, and surely the modification of others.

Some of my mother’s expressions were clear at face value. The cause and effect was obvious: open coat equals pneumonia. Others required a decoding of sorts. “If I have to stop this car….” was always open-ended and left for interpretation. None of us really wanted to find out the end of that sentence. We did not, however, question that an end was impending. In fact, we didn’t question most of these statements and when my mother said she had eyes on the back of her head, we never dreamed of rummaging around her curly scalp to see.

As we grew older, some of this Motherspeak required sophisticated decoding. My mom had incredible non-verbal skills with ‘looks’ that carried the same weight as words. “Don’t you think you’ll be cold?” she’d ask with raised eyebrows and bulging eyes, chin lifted slightly in my direction. This translated to “That blouse is too revealing and don’t you dare walk out of the house like that.”

My mom was amazing. She was always there to take us where we needed to go, see to it that we had all of the tools for life, and made us tow the line. Oh yes, my mom was tough! Looking back now, I see that she took her job seriously and did what she was supposed to do. Still, as I rebelled through my teenage years, like every other kid my age, I thought she was ridiculous, knew nothing and didn’t understand me.

Her skills in the area of ‘mother's intuition’ meant she was all knowing, all the time. She knew when we needed help and when to let us struggle. When something was wrong, she could see through our bravado. This seemingly psychic intuition made it harder to rebel in adolescence. Although I swore as teenager I would never be a mother like her, I have become a mother exactly like her. I laugh when I hear myself saying the same things she did and realize that my kids will not ‘get it’ until they wear parent shoes of their own.

Along with being fluent in this very important language and psychically intuitive, she became a skilled medical Para professional. Raising three reckless sons determined to challenge all odds, she developed the ability to call the doctor and let him know exactly how many stitches he would need to put in their chin, elbow or other ripped body part. It was a skill that came through experience and like my mother; I know when to call the doctor and when to wait things out. I can tell a child’s temperature with my cheek to their temple within a half of a degree and can spot a fake stomachache from a real one immediately. I am proud of my ability to diagnose with 90% accuracy, but this medical wisdom, I have discovered, is a gift reserved only for my children.

Last Monday, I began to feel ill late in the day. Being an Irish female, I opted to ignore this impending illness and pushed forward. Chills by bedtime and 100 degree temperature flourishing to 102 by morning meant I was not succeeding. Having ingested a more than sufficient supply of ibuprophin, I trudged out on Tuesday to keep an appointment for an inspection. I made it home by mid day and crawled defeated to the couch.

You better call the doctor,” my mother’s voice said on the phone. “And what do you mean you went to work? You need to rest! "

“Probably Just a cold Mom, maybe the flu; no big deal,” I tell her between coughs, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll call the doctor if I’m not better.”

“Well…” her voice trails off, the non verbal translation, "Fine…don’t listen to your mother…you’re going to make it worse."

Wednesday morning I was 102.5 with an unrelenting cough, my head splitting open at the top. A fistful of ibuprophin for breakfast, I attempted to sit to type the report I was now obligated to and battled with my self about calling the doctor. I hated wasting their time and my money just to hear that I had a virus.

Just checking in,” my mother says, “You sound worse! You’d better call the doctor, it sounds like pneumonia!”

Yes and kids are starving somewhere in the world because I didn’t finish my dinner. No need to over react. Still, a twenty dollar co-pay was a small price to pay to hear the words virus, giving me the ‘See Mom, I know a few things myself’ opportunity.

Don’t make me come up there!” She says in her most serious tone from North Carolina. There was no arguing this one. I know that tone. It was the same as “If I have to stop this car…” and I did not want to find out the ramifications.

“Hi Mom, you may not say I told you so. I went to the doctor. It is pneumonia.”

Hmmm.” Was all she said; Motherspeak for "See, you should listen to your mother.” Silent lecture behind us, I could almost hear the gears shift from ‘mother lecture’ to ‘mother nurture.’ “Do you want me to come up?”

“No Mom, I’m fine,” words I later wish I could take back. Family members began to fall like dominos: intestinal bug, head cold, strep, leaving only my fifteen-year-old unscathed. It is eight degrees as he dashes for the door in hopes of catching the bus in his usual ‘I’m too cool for a coat’ attire.

Put on a coat, you’ll catch pneumonia!” I rasp behind him, feebly attempting to exercise my authority. He pauses, eyebrows raised and looks at me out of the tops of his eyes; a look translated to "You with pneumonia are going to give me health advice?” and barrels out the door.

Perhaps I haven’t quite mastered Motherspeak.


Prema said...

This is lovely. Lovely and it made me cry. Perfect for today. I've been wanting to visit and say hi. I look forward to reading more. I just spent a month getting over a similar illness. Irish female, pushed through until I about fell over. Duh. Blessings for renewal and health!

Jerri said...

Blessings to you and yours.

Motherspeak is a tough language to master. Takes a lifetime, I think.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Motherspeak: "Do as I say, not as I do!" and, "Is that any way to speak to the woman that gave you LIFE?"