Word To Your Mother…


My four-year-old daughter has started blurting out nonsensical words. Simple, actual, everyday words turn into gigglefests. Here’s how it must look in her head:


It starts with a little giggle, turns into belly guffaws, and then she’s actually crying with laughter. I can’t help but join in the happy tears. It’s just so silly. Words like boobies, potty, and farty are popular in her repertoire. The thrill is in the verboten. In her four year old world, this is outrageous! Rebellious! Courageous! Contagious!

When I was in third grade, Mrs Somkopoulous gave us a spelling test. She slowly said the vocabulary words as the class wrote them down silently at our desks. When the test was over, Mrs. Somkopoulous wrote the words on the blackboard as we checked our own work. I wish I remembered what the word was, but what I do remember is getting that one word wrong. I had struggled over that word. Erasing it, rewriting it, erasing it again. And the spelling I settled on was wrong. As she wrote that one word, I hung on every letter. And when I realized I had chosen the wrong spelling, I lost control. I jumped up from my desk and yelled,

“SHIT!! I had it right the first time!”

It was as if the rest of the class had disappeared and I was standing there in my own space and time. I had never done anything like that before. It’s like I was possessed by the demons of spelling and disappointment. Mrs. Somkopoulous was horrified at my profanity and sent me straight to the corner. And the only thing greater than the shame I felt of being sent to the corner was the anger I felt at myself for spelling that word wrong.

When I moved into my first solo apartment, my mother asked me what have I always wanted that she could buy me as a gift. I said a giant dictionary. The biggest she could find. And I would display it on a music stand. She got me that dictionary. She said I was on my own to hunt for a music stand that could hold the weight of that gigantic beautiful book.

Discussing keeping kosher over dinner at a non-kosher restaurant, I was once told by our temple’s Cantor an unforgettable sentence. She said, “It’s more important what comes out of your mouth than what goes into it.” And with that dispensation, I ordered something covered in bacon and cheese.

I thought about that sentence while Miriam was randomly blurting out silly “dirty in a pre-k world” words. All I could see as I watched her giggles turn into tears of laughter was she now knew the power of words. The joy of words. I saw a little me studying the dictionary. Learning synonyms and homonyms and loving every minute of it. Being the only kid in elementary school that didn’t groan when the teacher said, “Take out your English textbooks now class.”

Words. I can’t get enough. I just learned a new phrase the other day. “Hoisted by my own petard” is my new obsession. Shakespearian in origin, I can’t stop saying it in my mind. I will giggle at its melody while Miriam recites “poopypantsladyfart” over and over again by my side.

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