Considering language

Today, I’m taking action. There are so many things we commonly say or write that do not seem to be carefully thought about.  Sometimes they’re not considerate towards others rights and feelings. Some of the things I hear, find myself saying or writing, come from my family-of-origin’s and culture’s language.

Language, for the purposes of this post on considering language, refers to a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings.  Each day I find myself with a growing list of things I want to stop saying, stop writing.  Maybe it’s a pet peeve, something writers and counselors pay attention to, or maybe it’s time for all of us to enter into considering our language.

A few examples follow.

“Shoot me an email.” Shoot sounds violent to me. Reconsidering, “Send me an email,” or better yet, “Please send me an email.”

When someone is looking forward to someone’s arrival or an event, often we hear, “I’m so anxious to see her.” Anxious? Really? It may be accurate when one is expecting someone who they have a stressful relationship with or for persons suffering with agoraphobia. Usually that is not the case. Reconsidering, “I’m so excited.” Or why not share some joy and happiness? “I’m so happy.”

Maybe you have some expressions that cause you to pause. You are invited to share them. Lets have some fun reconsidering language. Who knows? We could create a Reconsidering Language Dictionary working towards a world where we say what we mean and mean what we say – for a kinder more authentic world.

And, if you’re wondering why I chose considering, with an ing instead of considerate it’s because I believe language should evolve along with humans and the world – ever considering and ever changing.  Do we still have insane asylums? Do we dial up people on the phone? Geez, we rarely call someone. We text, tweet, have blogs, Facebook post (like and comment). Thank you.

The ever present mother

A mother & young elephant on the bank of the Shire River in Malawi, Africa. Touching is an important form of communication.

My mother died on November 1, 1999 at the age of 72. Always, she is with me. I see her in ocean waves and yellow forsythia,  hear her when someone chews gum loudly or belts out  the hymn “Jesus Christ is risen today with a long drawn out Alleluia,” smell her in Coppertone sunscreen and violet water bottles, and I taste her in guacamole and rice pudding with raisins. And touch, well, touch is a little more complicated.

My mother wasn’t the touchy-feely kind. In fact I don’t have many childhood memories of hugs or “I love yous.” They did come later. My mother’s mother died when she was an infant. Her sea captain father remarried but was often away leaving  my mother’s Bible banging stepmother to raise her. Needless to say my mother’s childhood was void of touch and “I love yous.”

We both have had to grieve losses and learn how to love, touch and express love.

I’ll never forget the last time I was with my mom. It was an idyllic (except we knew she was dying) week at the seashore. One night, Mom was tired and weak so I assisted her bathing. When I rubbed apple scented body wash on her wrinkled arms, I expected them to feel rough. Instead, I found myself melting into my mother’s soft skin, baby bottom soft. Through tears Mom told me something she had never told anyone, “My father died of syphilis. At least your father never cheated on me.” Oh my! What a cleansing ritual.

My parents separated off and on during my adolescent years and divorced when I was in college. My dad later married a woman named Barb. After he died, my mom and Barb became friends. In fact Barb was with us that week. I never referred to Barb as my stepmother. She asked us to call her “frother,” a combination of friend and mother. And she was a frother.

The greatest gifts my mother ever gave me were with us that week, are still with me. My mother showed me how to suffer, heal and forgive, how to be there for others and how to let others be there for you, and how to enjoy life from eating lobster with a bib to weeping at sunset.

In Mom’s last Christmas letter which was read by her spiritual adviser at her funeral Mass, she wrote, “Now, I am entering into eternal life and I want you to realize my joy! I am now to meet the Author of Life, He who created me and He who redeemed me and He who sanctified me.”

Those words just made me cry more.  How could I feel joy? At the time, eternal life was there where Mom’s body was, not here with me. I could no longer touch her. She could no longer touch me.

I still wonder about the Author of Life.  Is it a He or a She? Or a He/She, more like a Oneness? And redemption and sanctification make me swallow hard.

But eternal life seems to have staying power. It seems my mother continues to touch my life. She is ever present.

No expiration date by Ann O’Connor Waters

In response to last weeks’s invitation to readers to submit their writings to The Candle or the Mirror blogI am delighted to share “No Expiration Date” by Kansas City area writer Ann O’Connor Waters.

In a book, I read “there’s no expiration date on motherhood” and was immediately transported back to my mother’s kitchen—a time I was home from college just visiting with my grandmother and mother. Mom, who was in her late 50s at the time and very familiar with her kitchen, went to use the garbage disposal. Her mother said, “Watch your fingers.”

I thought “Wow, I guess once a mother always a mother.”

My grandma never had a garbage disposal on the farm and she lived mentally sharp till the end at age 88. My mother has not been as fortunate. She will be 90 years old in June. I have read the statistics about a growing number of people living with the affliction of dementia.  Now, it’s personal. My siblings and I often find ourselves mothering our mother.  Growing up as one of eight children, all girls except one boy, wasn’t always easy.

As a teenager I wasn’t terribly patient with what I perceived as Mom’s flaws. Now, when she thanks me for something I’ve done for her, I tell her I’m just paying her back for all the grief I gave her as a teen, she says, “I don’t remember you giving me any grief.” Why am I reminding her?

Mom’s frugal nature played a large part in my Dad’s success in building his own business. He started his insurance agency when they already had four children and Mom was pregnant with the fifth. I can still see Mom looking through the grocery ads and making her list of where to go for the best prices. Usually that meant multiple stores. A phrase that often came out of her mouth, “save it,” might have been in regard to some freshly baked cookies, or anything that had to be stretched between all of us. Dad credited Mom with helping keep the family afloat. No doubt her practical ways played a large part in enabling them to send eight children through Catholic schools and college. I must confess, when I make chocolate chip cookies I delight knowing I can add as many chocolate chips as I want—and eat what I want. We don’t have to save them.

In our large family multi-tasking was strongly encouraged—ingrained in us. If you were on the phone for example, you were expected to be folding laundry. For years I was convinced my obituary would read something like “she died blow-drying her hair while in the shower.”

Now with my mom, we do one thing at a time—very slowly.

Growing up, I always felt closer to my Irish Dad who was more comfortable showing his emotions and sharing mine. He seemed to say the right thing at the right time. Mom never quite had that knack. For example, when my boyfriend (now my husband) and I broke up, I was sobbing melodramatically across my bed when Mom came in and pulled out every cliché in the book. “There are other fish in the sea…” Her hands didn’t soothe me; instead she dusted my room. I ended up feeling sorry for her and said, “Gee thanks Mom, I feel so much better.” She gladly left the room.

When I was in the hospital in labor with my second son, perhaps in an effort to make conversation, Mom looked at the fetal monitor and asked, “Do they worry when it’s a flat line?”

One time, hoping to get insight into her feelings, maybe looking for a warm fuzzy word, I said, “You couldn’t have been thrilled every time you found out you were pregnant?” She paused and answered, “Oh I just figured, what’s one more?” For Mother’s Day I sent her flowers with a card saying “Thanks for not stopping at five.”  I was the sixth child.

Now, when it comes to communicating with Mom, I try to remember Fr. Mike’s words, “Meet people where they are.” In some ways, dealing with her is very similar to dealing with a toddler. My siblings and I find ourselves distracting her when she obsesses on one subject, being firm yet gentle when she resists something like showering or getting ready for bed and occasionally we bribe her. The other day when I was taking a shirt off over Mom’s head, I said, “Let’s skin the rabbit” just the way she did when she undressed me as a little girl. As Mom struggles to do things like getting into the car to go on a drive, she says “I can do it” with the strong willed voice of a two-year-old. At church, rather than let a lay minister bring communion to her, something they gladly do for many, Mom insists on walking up the aisle leaning on one of her children’s arms.

Things have come full circle:  I think of how she watched us grow; now, we’re watching her shrink (She wonders why her dresses are getting longer.); she taught us to drive; we had to take her driving privileges away; she will sometimes repeat the same story over and over; and I remind myself that I begged her to re-read my favorite story when I was a small child. The woman who taught me to cook can’t remember how to scramble an egg. Although Mom still seems to know my siblings and me, she sometimes refers to us as her “friends” or “those nice ladies that come to visit me.”

Mom has mellowed considerably.  I hope I have too. I spend every Thursday with her cherishing our time and learning lessons from dementia:  selective memory is not a bad thing; multi-tasking is over-rated; perhaps we should treat our family members at least as well as we do our friends; and slowing down and leaning on a loved one’s arm can be a pretty good way to walk through the world.

And, there’s no expiration date on daughterhood.