"A kid’s hardest task is to learn how to translate their parents’ words into intelligible language. Baffled kids often ask, 'What is my mother saying?'" writes Peggy McKee Barnhill. (Unsplash / Vadim Bogulov)

Gimme a Smile: What is my mother saying?

Kids, let me enlighten you.

Communication is one of the first things a child learns. They realize that crying gets them love and attention, that “no” is the most powerful word there is, and that parents don’t really fall for the “it wasn’t me” defense. But a kid’s hardest task is to learn how to translate their parents’ words into intelligible language. Baffled kids often ask, “What is my mother saying?”

Kids, let me enlighten you.

Sometimes your mother can’t remember the words in the heat of the moment. It’s like playing Mad Libs — you have to discern if Mom is searching for a noun, preposition, or gross bodily function, and then fill in the blank. Or she might substitute one word for another while assuming that you can make the one-to-one translation. In my house yesterday, I confused my son by suggesting he close “that circle thing” in the kitchen, as I watched him making a sandwich directly above the open lazy Susan cabinet. I miscalculated his translation prowess. He had no idea where I was going with “that circle thing,” so I had to translate for him.

Sometimes Mom feels the need to pronounce your first, middle, and last name in rapid succession, usually in a loud, carrying voice. It makes sense. Your parents worked hard coming up with a name especially for you. They probably vetted an array of family names, considering all the negative associations with other family members before choosing to name you after some dead relative. It stands to reason that they will want to proclaim your full name for all to hear. I’m sure it’s a coincidence that this only happens when Mom wants you to know that you are in trouble big time.

Sometimes Mom prefers the Oxford Parental Dictionary’s definitions of words. Kids, you’ll need your advanced translation skills to make sense of what she’s saying. For example, the OPD definition of “maybe” is “absolutely not.” Likewise, the OPD definition of “we’ll see” is “not on your life.” Conversely, the Oxford Parental Dictionary lists multiple definitions of the word “no,” ranging from “no,” to “try again later when I’ve had my coffee,” to “maybe I’ll think about it and change my mind if you just give me time.” To avoid a generational language barrier, kids should assume that Mom’s words have little relation to their accepted English usage.

Sometimes Mom will try to play with words. It’s like playing with fire. She might roll out some lame pun, followed by the inevitable phrase, “no pun intended.” She might try on some current slang, suggesting that you yeet your dirty laundry into the hamper, for example. Or she might trot out an old malapropism from your toddlerhood to amuse your friends with how you loved a peanut butter stand witch for lunch. Kids, just grin and bear it. She’s only embarrassing herself.

Sometimes Mom will reveal her advanced age by using figures of speech that have no meaning in the 21st century. She might tell you to hang up your phone or expect you to search through a bound dictionary to find out the spelling of a word. When she refers to the “card catalog,” she’s not talking about purchasing greeting cards online. When you mention that you need to cut and paste on your homework, she might hand you a pair of scissors and a roll of Scotch tape. Just humor her—she keeps you in touch with your historical roots.

Sometimes Mom just pronounces things wrong. She’s trying to say, “I love you,” but it comes out sounding like, “Clean your room,” or “Time to go to the dentist.” Kids, you need to cut Mom some slack when she struggles with pronunciation like this. Here’s a good rule of thumb: no matter what she says, you can be sure that “I love you” is hidden somewhere in her words.

Deciphering the meanings behind Mom’s words is one of the greatest challenges of the modern world, as kids everywhere seek to answer the burning question, “What is my mother saying?” Good luck kids—you’re going to need it!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.

More in Neighbors

Maj. Gina Halverson is co-leader of The Salvation Army Juneau Corps. (Robert DeBerry/The Salvation Army)
Living and Growing: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Ever have to say goodbye unexpectedly? A car accident, a drug overdose,… Continue reading

Visitors look at an art exhibit by Eric and Pam Bealer at Alaska Robotics that is on display until Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Sitka Conservation Society)
Neighbors briefs

Art show fundraiser features works from Alaska Folk Festival The Sitka Conservation… Continue reading

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski meets with Thunder Mountain High School senior Elizabeth Djajalie in March in Washington, D.C., when Djajalie was one of two Alaskans chosen as delegates for the Senate Youth Program. (Photo courtesy U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office)
Neighbors: Juneau student among four National Honor Society Scholarship Award winners

TMHS senior Elizabeth Djajalie selected from among nearly 17,000 applicants.

The 2024 Alaska Junior Duck Stamp Contest winning painting of an American Wigeon titled “Perusing in the Pond” by Jade Hicks, a student at Thunder Mountain High School. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
THMS student Jade Hicks wins 2024 Alaska Junior Duck Stamp Contest

Jade Hicks, 18, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, took top… Continue reading

(Photo courtesy of The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
Neighbors: Tunic returned to the Dakhl’aweidí clan

After more than 50 years, the Wooch dakádin kéet koodás’ (Killerwhales Facing… Continue reading

A handmade ornament from a previous U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree)
Neighbors briefs

Ornaments sought for 2024 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree The Alaska Region of… Continue reading

(Photo by Gina Delrosario)
Living and Growing: Divine Mercy Sunday

Part one of a two-part series

(City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Neighbors Briefs

Registration for Parks & Rec summer camps opens April 1 The City… Continue reading

Easter eggs in their celebratory stage, before figuring out what to do once people have eaten their fill. (Photo by Depositphotos via AP)
Gimme A Smile: Easter Eggs — what to do with them now?

From Little League practice to practicing being POTUS, there’s many ways to get cracking.

A fruit salad that can be adjusted to fit the foods of the season. (Photo by Patty Schied)
Cooking for Pleasure: A Glorious Fruit Salad for a Company Dinner

Most people don’t think of a fruit salad as a dessert. This… Continue reading