Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tastes Like Cake Mama

Every family develops its own language over time, it’s own inside jokes and phrases that can speak volumes in five words or less. We bandy them about without thought, tossing out these tidbits willy nilly, using them to enrich and re-enforce the bonds that chance and need and lust used to knot us together in the first place.

One of my favorites, being the mother of five, is “No Blood, No Problem”. I started saying this on a regular basis after my third child was born. I worked part time and tended my little family, trying to be like June Cleaver and succeeding in being just a shade better than Peggy Bundy. Kids fall down a lot it turns out. They fall up and down stairs, off curbs and out of chairs. Kids can even just be standing there, telling you they learned nothing in school for the 150th day in a row and fall down. One minute they are looking at you happily chattering away and the next they are in a wad in the floor, looking shocked and little and lost. They love to pinch their fingers in things… front doors, refrigerators, car doors and silverware drawers just to name a few. They fall off big wheels, bikes and trikes. They attempt to jump curbs on skateboards, think it would be fun to roll down a hill in a shopping cart and firmly believe it isn’t a real wrestling match until they have executed the perfect flying leap off of the back of the couch onto their brother’s or sister’s head. No Blood, No Problem became my mantra.

My sister in law gave me a maxim which I adopted because it was so charmingly country and sadly quite often true. “That child’s so spoilt she ain’t even worth throwin’ rocks at”. Thankfully she wasn’t describing one of mine at the time. Over the years I have seen many children and quite a few adults that can be aptly described as too spoiled to throw rocks at.

My brother, wanting to make sure we knew he was damning each and every one of us, stood on a dining room chair and, making large circular motions encompassing the twenty of us around the table, said “Damn ALLLLLLL y’all” to end a political “discussion”. Now, regardless of the content of the comment being directed at a group, we all swing are arms around and say ALLLLLLL  y’all. After so many years we don’t even need to add anything to it, All y’all is sufficient to get our point across. On the very rare occasion where there is real discord it is usually enough to wring a laugh out of even the most obstinate character there.

My older son coined a term which makes me cringe. It is simply “MAMA”. It is said in such a loud nasally voice, with a certain timbre to it, that it can be heard across an entire WalMart store at Christmas. If he had been a little child it would have been annoying, but coming from a 17 year old that has no clue what decorum or embarrassment might mean (I once rounded an aisle to find him pretending to be frozen in the ice cooler) it is blood curdling. Picture a six foot tall kid calling “Mama” at the top of his lungs while he literally swims the back stroke across the front of the store, grinning at you the entire time. Needless to say, we didn’t run errands together for years after that. He is almost 28 now, and when he walks in the house he still hollers Mama in that paint peeling tone. My husband does it too. Argh.

My daughters say “I just got stupider” when confronted by verbal absurdities. The first time I heard it I thought... well, I may as well admit it, I thought “I just got stupider”. It is amazing how many times in a day you can find yourself confronted with utterly ridiculous turns of phrase or well embellished prose. I guarantee you will find yourself repeating this one.

My absolute favorite though is one my youngest son came up with. Now, I am a pretty good cook. He was a really good eater. Like all of my children he loved food, all food (except fried okra it turned out). He was my biggest fan. Thankfully my kids all inherited their father’s physique which is lean no matter what they do. Henry would eat plate after plate of whatever was set before him. If I wanted to try something new I waited until I was sure he would be there to taste it. I would make enough for six and have barely enough for the three of us. No matter what I put in front of him, smashing success or barely palatable mess, he always said the same thing. “Tastes Like Cake Mama”.

A family’s private language is something we don’t think often about, but we should. It is a gift, a history, a wonderful work of art, a tapestry of sound woven into memory that defines us all.