Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mama tried, mama tried . . .

I grew up primarily in the 80s and 90s.  Back then, moms didn’t have blogs to consult for creative ideas on how to teach their kids things.  I guess they probably talked to each other for support and advice.  Or maybe they went to the library?  I don’t know because, frankly, I was too busy watching wholesome programs like WWF Wrestling and The Dukes of Hazzard to really care.  The advent of the internet has  changed the way we approach most things in our lives, including parenting, I guess.  It’s a go-to resource where we find trusted answers.  I mean, need to know how to fix your dishwasher? Go to Google. Need to know how to say “Why, yes, I AM single” in Italian? Google will tell you. And if you need to figure out how to get your kid to chew with her mouth closed, Google will connect you with all kinds of people with all kinds of suggestions. 

But before Google, there was Nora.  Working it out on her own.

My mom always wanted us to speak intelligently. She is a words person who taught us the importance of a good vocabulary. She absolutely shut down any attempts to use improper grammar like “we was” or “I don’t got no.” And I think I tried to use the word “ain’t” just once before I learned that would not fly in the Palmore house. One of her biggest pet peeves was when we would say “go” and “went” instead of  “say” or “said.”  Like so: “I saw Sarah on the playground so I walked over to her and I go ‘Do you want to come to my slumber party?’ and then she went ‘When is it?’ And I went ‘It’s this weekend.’ And then she goes “I’ll ask my mom.’” This grammatical impropriety was like nails on the proverbial chalkboard for my mom and she absolutely would not tolerate it in her presence.  She tried just telling us why it was incorrect and hoped that we would fix it based on that alone.  No such luck.  We continued to recount stories of people “going” instead of “saying” and she finally had had enough.  So one day, she just started interrupting our stories:

    Me: I was playing with my friends at recess today and one of my friends goes “Do you want to -”
    Mom: Where did she go?
    Me: What?
    Mom: Where did she go?
    Me: When?
    Mom: When you were talking to her.  You said she went. Where did she go.
    Me: No.  She didn’t go anywhere.  She just said “Did you get any -”
    Mom: Ooooooooohhhhhhhhh!  She saaaaaaaaaaaaaaid.  That makes more sense.  What did she say?
    Me: She said “Do you want to go the skating rink on Saturday?” And so I go “Let me ask my -”
    Mom: Where did you go?
    Me: What?
    Mom: Where did you go? That was so rude of you to walk off in the middle of your conversation with her.
    Me: I didn’t walk off.  I - I just said “Let me ask my -”
    Mom: Oooooooooooohhhhhhhh!  I see.  You saaaaaaaaaaaid. What did you say?
    Me: Moooooooooooom.

So we quickly learned that telling my mom a story was frankly just too time-consuming if we didn’t use the correct vocabulary. Words were important to her so they became important to us.  And they still are. So she won that round.

But she didn’t win all the time.

The dinner table was a favorite place of hers to teach us lessons and make us more refined.  I recall her efforts at trying to correct our terrible posture while at the table.  She hated it when we slouched because she wanted her girls to look more like well-bred ladies and less like neanderthals. She was always on us about it, especially at the dinner table.  But try as she may, we persisted in our slouching ways and were well on our way to a life of chins grazing the table at fine dining establishments when my mom brought out various books.  She handed us each one and made us eat the rest of our meals while balancing the books on our heads.  This went on for weeks - each time she felt like our posture was not up to par, the books would come out.  That is until the night The Great Gatsby came crashing down on her meatloaf. 

And we never had to balance the books again.

Then there was the time she decided that we put too much food in our mouths during dinner and she wanted us to take more appropriately-sized bites like civilized human beings. So, being the creative mom that she was, she came up with what she thought was the perfect solution: she drew a red circle on our plates and we had to put any bite of food in that circle first before we could put it in our mouths. If the bite was bigger than the circle, it was too big and we had to fix it before we could eat it. We were annoyed with this new idea of hers but she was so proud of herself.  But then we started noticing red streaks through our mashed potatoes and it was then that my mom realized that she hadn't used a permanent marker. So she got out some clean plates and went to the library to research the symptoms of ink poisoning. 

And we never had to measure our bites again.

But the best lesson my mom ever tried to teach us was about the propriety of the songs we were singing in the car and around the house.  I think it all started when I was dancing around the house singing "Papa Don't Preach" at the top of my lungs:

        Papa don't preach
        I'm in trouble deep
        Papa don't preach
        I've been losing sleep
        But I've made up my mind
        I'm keepin' my baby

Upon hearing her 11-year old daughter singing these particular lyrics, my mom asked me what I was singing. I told her and then she asked me if I knew what that song was about. It was an easy question to answer: “It’s about how this girl's dad is a preacher and she is telling him not to preach anymore. And she calls her boyfriend "baby" and she's telling her dad that she is not going to break up with him.” I had no idea that Madonna was actually singing about an unplanned teen pregnancy and that she didn't want her dad lecturing her about it. That was an awkward conversation. To this day, I'm thankful I hadn’t been singing "Like a Virgin" instead . . .

After that, my mom decided that we needed to really pay attention to the words of the songs that we were singing. In order to accomplish this, she had us write down the lyrics to a song that we liked and then read them at the dinner table so that we could discuss what they meant. Erin picked "Walk this Way" by Aerosmith and Run DMC. One of my most cringe-worthy childhood memories is sitting across the dining room table from Erin as she dryly read the lyrics "Backstroke lover always hidin’ neath the cover till I talk to my daddy he say” and then paused for discussion. It was an awkward dinner.

For my lyric exploration, I chose the song All Cried Out by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. I had taken the task very seriously and had sat in front of my jam box rewinding the tape over and over until I had recorded the entire song in my little spiral. It wasn't full of little gems like Erin's choice was so it was much less awkward to discuss around the dinner table. Unfortunately, a week or so later I left the spiral I had written the lyrics in over at my neighbors' house. Their mom found the spiral, opened it up, and stumbled across the lyrics for All Cried Out written in my childlike cursive. The problem was that she had never heard the song so she thought I had written it myself. At the age of 11. You can imagine her distress when she read:

        All alone on a Sunday morning
        Outside I see the rain is falling
        Inside I'm slowly dying
        But the rain will hide my crying
        And you, don't you know my tears will burn the pillow
        Set this place on fire 'cause I'm tired of your lies
        All I needed was a simple "Hello"
        But the traffic was so noisy that you could not hear my cry
        Ah, I gave you my love in vain
        My body never knew such pleasure
        My heart never knew such pain
        And you, you leave me so confused
        Now I'm all cried out over you

My body never knew such pleasure?? Needless to say, our neighbors were truly concerned and planned an intervention with my parents to let them know that I was deeply troubled. And possibly a tramp. But DEFINITELY going through some dark, dark stuff.  I hope they were also at least momentarily impressed with my apparent song-writing skills but that was never discussed. Instead, they simply invited my parents over to their house and showed them the spiral.  I imagine that they also had the business card of a good therapist on hand.  My parents began reading the lyrics and quickly realized the mistake.  They explained the whole thing and why the lyrics were in my spiral and our neighbors breathed a sigh of relief that I was not, after all, an at-risk youth.

And we never had to write the words of songs again.

But she tried.  She really did.  She took her job as our mom seriously and tried to make her lessons stick.  And while we don’t always stand up straight or take lady-like bites, especially when Mexican food is involved, we do remember the things she has taught us.  So we Palmore girls don’t need to turn to Google for advice on how to get a point across or drive a lesson home.  We have the original source of parenting creativity right here in our family tree.

And she’s not saying anywhere.

Wait. Going.  I meant going that time.