Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Words, Words, Words

This morning, when I blew my top because my teenage daughter had been awake for fifteen minutes but wasn't actually getting up (or dressed or organized), I was treated to one of my all-time least favorite phrases.

"Mo-o-om, it's covered."

Clearly, it wasn't. The only thing covered was the carpet — covered with dirty clothes, discarded gum wrappers, textbooks, homework, hair accessories, and a cruddy bowl from last night's brownie sundae. She was tired, yeah, I get that.

But, I was tired too. Sick and tired of the disconcerting, dismissive, disrespectful words that so frequently come out of her mouth. (Let's face it, the girl disses me altogether too much.)

People tell me that my daughter is a good kid. And, somewhere beneath the early-morning frustration, I know this, of course. When it comes to the things she says to me, I'm aware that there are much (much, much) worse words I could hear ...

"Can you pick me up at the police station?"

"My period's late."

"I have to repeat Biology next year."

"Is there any more vodka?"

Even so, there are some words that I no longer want to hear. From now on, they are orsum non gratis. This new rule (which will, no doubt, be oh so strictly adhered to — as are all the rules in our house — ha!) is not limited to the specific words themselves. I am outlawing all utterances that share their general purpose and intent. 

Here are four categories of conversation taboo. I suggest that the teenager study this closely:

1. "It's covered."
The underlying tone is "Chillax, Mom. You are making a big deal out of nothing. I do not need your advice or your guidance. I am in control — and you are not. I am in charge — and you are not. I'm a calm, cool, and collected individual — and you are not." 

Sorry sweetheart, it ain't covered till the fat lady sings so. I'm the fat lady — and you are not.

2. "But, everybody else ..."
This excuse is used when I am disappointed in some action or behavior or result. If, for example, my daughter gets an 87 on a World Cultures test (which by the way, when I had nagged her the night before, she told me was "covered"), the response is "But, everybody else got a 75." Sorry, the class's mediocre average does not make me happy with a B. No way, no how.

If everyone else jumped off a bridge ...?

3. But, no one else ..."
A variation on the above is used when my daughter is bemoaning her fate as the most pitiable child since Charles Dickens wrote Little Dorrit. "But, no one else has parental controls on their computer." "But, no one else has to go to bed at 10." "But, no one else has to call their mother after school." "But, no one else has to make their bed."

Who are these people — and where are their parents?

4. "Nothing."
The last and arguably most common (and perhaps most irritating) is the verbal answer that evades actually answering by saying ... well ... nothing. This is used as a response to myriad queries:

"What are you doing on your phone?" "Nothing."
"What did you learn in school today?" "Nothing."
"What did you guys do this afternoon?" "Nothing."

Its close relative is another one-word reply: "Stuff," as in:

"What are you texting about?" "Stuff."

When our kids are little and just starting to speak, we often tell them, "Use your words." For example, when your toddler is pointing to a cookie and going, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyy," like a juvenile cast member from a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. "Use your words," we remind them, gently.

This post is my not so gentle reminder to my teen. Use your words, yes, just not these particular words anymore.

'Nuff said.

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