Jenna von Oy’s Blog: Mom’s the Word
Celebrity blogger Jenna von Oy is a new mama!
In her latest blog, von Oy explores the various ways words affect us (and our parenting).
Already 14 months – The Cradle Chronicles
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling
Words. We eat, sleep, and breathe them. According to a few random statistics I found online, the average person says approximately 16,000 of them a day. Some folks, like a certain former speed-talking best friend I played in the 90’s, are probably spitting out significantly more than that. No surprise here, I’ve been known to verbalize my share of them on a personal level too!
At times, I’ve certainly been guilty of saying too much, and every now and again (though exceedingly rare), I’ve also been guilty of not saying enough. There are instances in my life when the words “I’m sorry” didn’t come as soon as they should have, or the slamming of a door has spoken more loudly than the argument that preceded it.
I grew up working in a career based on words that, when communicated in just the right manner or context, inspire laughter. In the absence of words, this blog you’re reading wouldn’t exist, critics would be out of a job, and you wouldn’t spend hours obsessively playing Words With Friends on your iPhone.
In fact, if we get down to brass tacks, all of our relationships, work, play, and family lives are predicated on words, aren’t they? Without them, our daily routines would be as unstructured as streets without stop signs or Kindergarten classrooms without teachers (I shudder at the thought!).
Words can incite a meeting of the minds or they can be the burden we carry. But whether we are creatures of few words or of many, our lives revolve around letters that have been strung together and assigned meaning. And sometimes that’s a bizarre concept to consider.
You’re Speaking My Language:
Curiously, nothing has made me contemplate words and their significance more than parenting a one-year-old. Because, let’s be honest, a one-year-old can comprehend far more than he or she can actually articulate.
At 14 months, Gray has arrived at a (permanent?) phase where her mouth takes off running as soon as her eyes open in the morning. She is fluent in Toddler-ese now, a combination of babbling, wild gesticulation, and concrete word fragments. It is a language I may never completely conquer.
Of course, Miss Gray is confident all of her observations should be understood and indulged, and she holds entire conversations as such. She demonstrates visible frustration when I’m slow to follow her train of thought, or — God Forbid — when I ask her to repeat herself.
I sympathize. No one is fond of being misunderstood, myself included! I’m doing my absolute best to provide her with an open forum for expression, whether I can interpret it or not, though sometimes it’s tough to strike a balance. I want to help her learn the proper pronunciation and name for objects, while simultaneously encouraging and celebrating her communication.
The latter is crucial to me, even when her attempt is garbled and indecipherable. I had a lisp when I was in elementary school, so I’m keenly aware of the ways in which speaking can injure a child’s pride. But my girl is full-speed ahead with her dialogue mastery, which is phenomenal to hear.
I savor the sound of her cadence, and revel in the ebb and flow of her speech patterns. They move melodically, even when the content is unintelligible. I watch as she tests each syllable on her tongue and weighs its meaning.
I’ve noticed that she chooses her words carefully, and each time a new one is voiced, I beam with devoted parental pride and joy … Yes, even when the word is as glamorous as “Elmo” or “potty.”
Ouch – The Cradle Chronicles
Actions Speak Louder Than Words:
I’m discovering there are some scary words in my every day vocabulary now, which I’d taken for granted before. Little adjectives like “hot” and “sharp” have taken on new connotations. They represent concepts that require hands-on experience before truly resonating with children, abstract ideas that cannot always be appreciated until it’s too late. How can a child fully recognize the danger of a word they don’t yet grasp?
When I was a bit older than my daughter, I got severely burned. My mom had invited a friend over for coffee and dessert, and the woman was sitting at our dining room table while my mother prepared everything in the kitchen. I was familiar with the fact that the terms “hot” and “coffee” were inextricably linked, as my parents had drilled that notion into me until they sounded like broken records. But I was being a nosy little social butterfly, and wanted to see what was on top of the table above me.
As my mom set a saucer full of scalding liquid down in front of her companion, I decided to grab the tablecloth and use it to pull myself into a standing position. Her friend was not anticipating the sudden movement, and her cup of coffee came tumbling down on top of me. Needless to say, I finally understood what “hot” really meant.
To this day, when I have any sort of suntan on my arms, I can still see the scars that resulted from that incident. Now, to be clear, neither my mom nor her friend did anything wrong in that scenario. No one was neglecting to watch me, nor were they engaged in some kind of hazardous activity with a baby in the room. The reality is, I pulled the coffee down on top of myself before either of them could stop me. Accidents happen.
As a parent, one of my biggest fears is that something similar will occur, that my reaction time won’t always match my desire to keep my daughter out of harm’s way … And therein lies the trouble. But since I can’t do much beyond trying my best to preemptively teach Gray all of those small words with mammoth meaning, I resort to instructional colloquialisms that have become persistent fixtures in my parenting vocabulary, such as “Be careful” and “Don’t touch that.”
I’d put those slogans on a neon sign, which I’d happily mount on my forehead, if it could save my daughter from learning the hard way.
Oops… She Said It Again
“Uh-Oh.” I’ve heard those words uttered so many times this month, I’ve lost count. That exclamation seems to be Gray’s latest phrase craze, and she enjoys using it whether it fits the situation or not. Who needs “please” and “thank you,” for example, when you have something as eloquent as “Uh oh?”
My little girl shrugs her shoulders, raises her eyebrows in disbelief, and throws her palms up in a questioning motion as if she has no clue what has just transpired. I’ve dropped my Curious George book on the floor and trampled it? “Uh Oh.” I’ve purposely hurled my pacifier across the room? “Uh Oh.” The dog ate my Cheerios because I politely handed them over? I’ve stolen Mommy’s iPhone and somehow managed to dial a random contact in Europe, via the voice control that even Mommy doesn’t know how to initiate?
You get the idea.
Word To Your Mother (Or From Your Mother, As The Case May Be):
A year into parenting, I’m already starting to sound like my mother. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing, but I’m slightly befuddled that it has happened so early on in my mommy adventures. I thought I could reserve that sort of commentary for some future road trip, when I’d suddenly find myself blurting out, “Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before we leave!” or “Stop kicking my seat!”
But it turns out there are other classics that have begun to make an appearance as of late. I’ve even come dangerously close to asking, “Do you need a time out?” once or twice already. Heaven help me. In the past few weeks, I have heard the following commands escape my lips:
“Please don’t run in the house” — Emphatically stated as my daughter careens around corners, pushing her newly-discovered mobility skills to the limit. I cringe as she beelines for the kitchen, knowing what comes next … splashing in the doggie water bowl. You think a Six Flags water park is wild? Try being in our kitchen when she wades in that thing.
“Food is not for throwing” — Typically used in conjunction with “Please don’t feed the dogs.” This is probably self-explanatory. Let’s just say my Jackson Pollock protégé also enjoys painting the floor with her strawberries from time to time, much to the satisfaction of our five, salivating, vacuum-impersonating pups.
There’s clearly no need for the “Five-second Rule” in our house. You know how most parents have to remind their children to share more with others? Well, sometimes we have to remind ours to share a bit less.
“No jumping on the bed” — Typically said at an hour I try to reserve for sleeping, and in a tone that signifies I’m rapidly approaching my proverbial last straw. This statement is often interchangeable with “Please sit down” and “It’s definitely bedtime for Gray.”
“Ouch!” … And Other Four-letter Words:
I do my best to curb my cussing enthusiasm. I swear I do. But it is becoming more and more apparent that there’s no room for error on my part. Gray has begun repeating things, and it’s going to get me into trouble at some point soon; the writing is on the wall.
I have nightmares of my sweet baby going to school and saying something that sends ME to the principal’s office. It will be one of those epic motherhood fails that I’ll laugh about when Gray is 20, but which will turn me a thousand shades of embarrassed in that moment.
I’ve never been terribly good at biting my tongue, so knowing there are young ears around that hang on my every word is a serious lesson in exercising restraint. That said, my daughter seems to think “ouch” is the most blasphemous word in the dictionary at this point in her fledgling life.
I stubbed my toe the other day, caught myself before casting out a flurry of profanity, and managed to mutter “ouch” instead of something worse. My daughter immediately began crying. Thinking I’d hurt her in the process, I asked where Mommy should “kiss it and make it better.” She shook her head like I’d lost my mind.
A few days later, I bumped my hip into our dining room table (are you getting the feeling I’m uncoordinated?). Once again, I grunted the word “ouch” through gritted teeth; Gray promptly wailed.
I was beginning to sense a theme. Sure enough, Gray cries whenever she thinks I’ve been hurt, which is incredibly endearing. Nonetheless, it isn’t fair to upset her every time I do something clumsy… Which is, apparently, quite often.
Consequently, “ouch” has been filed away into the dirty word category, to be retrieved someday when my daughter’s empathetic spirit isn’t quite so sensitive.
Love – The Cradle Chronicles
Love Makes The Word Go ‘Round:
Of all the words in the English language, I endeavor to say these three to my daughter more than any other: “I love you.” I know some folks feel that offering that phrase “too frequently” renders it less poignant, but I just don’t think it can be said enough… especially to a child.
I’m a big believer in professing it as often as possible, as long as you mean it every single time it leaves your lips. I treasure the fact that my parents have always used those words with me unconditionally and unapologetically, so I brought that way of thinking into my marriage and my parenting.
I know that, one day soon, I will hear my daughter echo my “I love you.” For now, however, I’m content knowing it’s a phrase that doesn’t need to be spoken aloud, in order for my heart to hear it.
I guess my point in all of this (I promise I have one!) is that words can be your poison or your antidote, especially where parenting is concerned. I try to use them wisely, but I’m not perfect. When all else fails, I strive to remember what Philip Larkin once said, “Silence, too, is eloquent.”
In honor of my lengthy ode to words this month, and since I love hearing from all of you, I thought I’d pose the following question: What is the funniest word or statement that has ever come out of your child’s mouth? (Let’s try to remain as PC as possible here, so the good folks at PEOPLE.com don’t have to audit our responses!)
Until next time…
— Jenna von Oy
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