Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Language Barrier

By Lisa Lucke

It’s been said that as young boys begin the gradual process of becoming young men, magical things happen: they take on more responsibilities, they look out for their younger siblings without being told to, and their brains go on an extended vacation, only to return just in time to take the SAT their senior year.

At some point during the last six months, when my son turned eleven, the transformation began. He and I have been living on different language planets.In the past, we’d barely have to speak at all to understand each other; our ability to simply look into each other eyes was all we needed to communicate. I remember those days fondly, when I’d glance at him, smile, take a sniff and then change his diaper. He’d smile back. We’d Eskimo kiss. Now, I smile, but not because I’ve met his needs; I smile because if I didn’t, I’d be sobbing.

Even when I’m really concentrating, I just can’t seem to put the dots together anymore. Now, when I can’t figure out what he wants, or what he’s trying to tell me, I take that giant leap of faith and do what my mother always did: I say, “No.” I figure that whatever it is he’s asking for that I can’t wrap my college-educated, teaching-credentialed brain around, I can remedy with a simple, negative response.

It happened to us just the other day at the grocery store, while I was trying to push the right buttons before the debit card machine beeped at me again, while the lady in line behind me stared me down. At that particular moment, my son walked up and said something about soda and his allowance. I replied, “No” without even looking up.


I said nothing, and continued concentrating on the buttons.

“Mom. Mom. MOM!” he sputtered in rapid succession. “Can I have this?”

(Another pet peeve of mine: using pronouns when a common noun will do nicely. Couldn’t he see that my head was buried in buttons…how should I know what “this” is?) What happened next can only be described as bizarre.

“Jay, what is 'THIS'?” I spit out, without taking my eye off the buttons.

"How should I know!" my son replied hotly. "Mom, what are you talking about?!!"

I ignored what may as well have been Swahili, and pushed away from the check stand with my fully loaded cart. My dumbfounded son, expecting me to answer his original question, whatever the hell that was, just stood there. Everyone was staring: the checker, the people in line, well, everyone except the bagger, of course. He’s 16, and he’s a he. He knew exactly what my son was talking about the whole time. I could see it on his pimply little face. He thought I was a moron.

I’ll go out on limb here and suggest that it’s a gender thing. I have three daughters and while we don’t always like what we’re hearing from one another, make no mistake about it – we do understand what the other is saying. In fact, one of my daughters, at the tender age of 8, has already mastered a foreign language: beagle. That’s right – she can communicate with our family mutt as evidenced recently when she informed me that our cocker/beagle mix was requesting ribs for his birthday dinner. “Hmm,” I answered. “Ribs are your favorite food. What an interesting coincidence.” My husband and I just looked at each other, and about this time, my son entered the room. Just because I thought it was safe to do so, I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and his reply included the following words, not necessarily in this order: doorbell, toothbrush, cycling.

The burning question is, why is it that my daughter can speak Beagle, but I can’t even speak 11-year old American Boy? On a good day, my son and I have only two or three head-exploding conversations that usually end with one of us begging the other for mercy. Mostly, the beggar is me. “Please, can we start this conversation over? I promise to try harder,” is my normal plea. He gets frustrated, sometimes stomps his feet, and occasionally, his eyes well up. That only happens when the thing we’re discussing is school. It’s virtually impossible for us to discuss why a certain paper didn’t get turned in on time without some form of water escaping from some orifice: for me, it’s steam out of the ears, and for my son it’s tears out of his face, and it usually goes like this:

“Mom, I had to go to study hall again today.”

“What happened? Didn’t you finish everything last night? What did you forget?" (My first mistake is always the same: asking him more than one question at a time. It never goes well.)

“Nothing MOM! I DID; he didn’t put it on the BOARD!”

“Put what on the board? Didn’t you put your name on it?”


“The paper you didn’t turn in.”

“NO MOM! What paper?!! The DUE DATE MOM!!”

“You missed the due date?”

“NOOOO! He said it OUT LOUD and Joey had my HAT!”

“What does Joey have to do with this? Did you or did you not have everything done last night when I asked you specifically 'Do you have everything done?'”


“You’re right. I don’t get it because I’m an idiot.”

This is where the tears start flowing because my son feels bad for my confusion. He doesn’t like it when I put myself down. He actually believes that I think I’m the problem. Little does he know that it makes me feel better to stop the bleeding by blaming myself so that I can go on with my life like most moms I know and just pencil in an extra therapy appointment for the following week.

“Can we please start over?” I say meekly. “I promise to really concentrate this time.”

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