I have a confession to make. I failed my 10th grade grammar test required to pass into the next grade. I was one of only three people in my entire year to fail. Luckily they let me retake it and I managed to – on the second try, pass, enter the 11th grade eventually graduate and get into college. Phew. Thank goodness for retakes, spell check and friends who are good at proofreading because I really could use a brush up. I have reserved in the most generous core of my being a little bit of admiration for the grammar philes- you know who you are– who consistently point out our errors. It is all of you I have to thank for the knowledge I have a problem with rogue commas, dialogue placement, indentation, and far worse grammatical crimes like dangling participles, a phrase which sounds more like the discovery of a murder weapon than the possible misinterpretation of a sentence.
These women, I have yet to meet a man who is a member of the grammar police, are half school teacher, half passive aggressive serial killer. You might have the misfortune of sending a missive their way and they fire it back to you with highlights, word layers and so much so it looks like a child scribbled with crayons on your typing. Part of me thinks these people draw your attention to your mistakes partly to be helpful and partly in a haughty I am better than you at something way. They sometimes wait for a reaction like they would be pleased that they mortally offended you. It does feel a bit like you went to the doctor’s office and they took a pincher clamp and pinched you in all the wrong places to prove to you you have a weight problem.
I have both, a weight problem and a grammar problem and I already know. My larger difficulty is that I never liked rules, and I can’t count calories. The irony does not escape me, that although I failed my tenth grade grammar test I have a career where I write blogs, scripts, teleplays, grants, and plenty of letters. I give plenty of people fodder for the pleasure of correcting me. I should learn from all this unsolicited “help” but do I, no because I never liked rules like the grammar police. Rules are far more boring than ideas. I say all of this to bring up my big: however moment because there is one grammar issue that bothers me and is the source of much confusion in my family: pronouns. Women seem to be worse than men at this annoying habit of not being specific and my own mother is one of the worst. For example….
She will often ask me something like:
“Will you pick that up and bring it to me.”
“What?” I ask.
“That” she responds with exasperation pointing into the air.
“What?” I ask again as I pick up a folder, a magazine, a pen.
“No, that!” she points again in frustration.
“That, what?” I again plead with her for specification.
Finally she obliges.
“Oh” I say and hand her the catalogue.
“Not that one.” She says
“That one! “ She insists.
“Ahhhhh.” I respond and push the stack of catalogues in her direction.
Shaking her head mom looks at me like I am stupid and should be able to read her mind.
My mother also suffers from old age. Her bad hearing and eyesight do not help matters when pronouns are involved. I am happy to let the readers know that my mother had a successful operation on a cataract a few weeks ago, but before that time she had been “legally blind” since she was about 10.
One day about a week before she left for her eye operation I joined her on a dog walk in Ferry Reach Public Park with her Doberman, Babe. My mother has been walking her dogs at Ferry Reach for decades in fact I think she thinks it is an extension of her own backyard. It is usually the same people out exercising at the same time of each day, interspersed with Works and Engineering workers, campers, and Regiment soldiers on drills at different times of the year. Then there are Sundays when the park is descended on by families, dogs, and the “Hoi Polloi.” As you can imagine my mother and her Doberman don’t associate with the Ferry Reach “Hoi polloi” and therefore they don’t go walking on Sundays.
Out of the regular weekday walkers I only occasionally show up with my mom and Babe. It is usually a weak moment. My mother has asked if I wanted to go on an exercise walk and I have agreed, knowing what could be a 45 minute walk will turn into a two hour, walk, swim, sunbathe, trip into St. George’s and chat at the post office during which time my mother will address all of what she is concerned are my major challenges in life, like the need to have a son, clean out my fridge, and entertain the neighbors. Most of which have barely crossed my mind.
One such day a couple weeks ago my mother and I and Babe are heading around the last stretch home enroute to the car when my mother (cataract and all) catches sight of a movement in the distance.
“Did you see that up there?” she asks.
“I am not sure, “ I squint with my 20/20 vision.
“I am sure I saw something.”
“Mom other people are allowed inside, it’s a public park.”
“Other people aren’t usually out here at this time.”
“Well maybe today is an exception, the schools are on break you know.”
My mother shakes her head, unconvinced like a hawk shaking its feathers to get a better view. Suddenly she pulls on Babe’s lead who then snaps to attention. Simultaneously she puts her right hand out in front of me to stop me in my tracks, like she used to when she braked for a pedestrian in the old bright red Honda we had growing up before the era of seat belt laws and booster seats.
“Oh my god that person up there has a dog!”
“It’s a free country mom. Other dogs are allowed in Babe’s park.”
“Yes but the dog is off the lead. It’s against the law”
I squint down the mile expanse and I see something shifting about.
“You might be right, but I can’t tell if it’s on a lead.”
“I can’t see that well.” Mom says.
“You saw it before me.” I say.
“What size dog is it?” she asks.
“Mom I think it might be medium sized.” I say squinting at the creature in the distance being walked by it’s family.
“It’s wearing a sweater, so I can’t tell the breed.” I add.
“I can only really see movement from a distance,” my mother says, “everything else is blurry even close up.”
“I bet its an Alsatian, they are really vicious,” She adds. “I saw one out here a few months ago.”
When we approached the family, a little voice said.
“May I pat your dog?”
“Yes,” I say as my mother at the same time says, “No.”
I whisper to my mom, “It’s not a dog.” But she doesn’t hear me.
My mother looks down at the little girl coming toward Babe. Making out the pink sweater she says, “ You know SHE should really be on a leash.”
The mother looks shocked and responds,
“Well SHE is four years old.”
“At four THEY still jump around, trust me, I have one myself they need a leash.”
The other mother just smiles at me awkwardly and they ask again,
“Can we pat your dog?”
Hopeful that my mother could show some willing, I answered for her with a resounding.
“Yes” at the same time she said even louder, “No!”
I look at her as if to say she was being ridiculous and she felt the need to explain,
“My Babe, SHE bites, does yours too?”
The woman keeps trying to pull her daughter away from Babe.
I smile politely and lead my legally blind mother away at which time she says within earshot.
“People need to control their wild animals.”
“Mom it was not a wild animal it was a child on half term break!”
“SHE still needs a leash” my mother said.
It was this moment at Ferry Reach Park that made me realize that my mother’s surgery was not without urgency. This was brought home a few days later when she was taking care of Eva’s cousin Sadie, my sister’s daughter who is also two years old.
My sister’s older son Trystan is five and is being schooled in the art of the prank by none other than his own mother. When my sister arrived at my parent’s house with Trystan to pick up Sadie, Trystan slipped off unnoticed. Thirty minutes later, my mother, Sister, Sadie and Trystan walk into the living room. There on my mother’s prized Moroccan rug was a huge poop.
My mother squinted. She hovered. She sniffed. She bent over, then recoiled in shock.
“My carpet! “
“Quick get the paper towel..” my sister ran off to oblige, when she returned, my mother took the paper towel and hovered over the mess.
Mom looked at my sister and Sadie and said,
“SHE has really gone crazy this time.”
Sadie started to cry. My sister looked at mom in horror.
“Sadie is potty trained.” She insisted.
“No SHE is insane.” My mother insisted.
“Who?” my sister said. “Not Sadie.”
Sadie cried harder.
“ No, BABE! “ My mother yelled as she bent over and picked up a hard fake plastic dog poo.
Trystan giggled the rest of the afternoon, his prank had been more successful than he anticipated… Trystan and my sister after telling me of the scene above, convinced me to replicate the same prank on Chris. What do you know, it worked, probably because there is something easily believable about dog poo on a carpet in the Spurling compound. Of course I videoed it.
The following week I realized I myself was creating misunderstandings for Eva with pronouns. Since she was only a few months old Eva has had a healthy marked obsession with animals. She rides horses without fear, gives fierce snappy dachshunds bear hugs, talks to the flies and feeds the fish; it is part of who she is. Most days we venture to the toad pond to count the toads, and she is occasionally brave enough to touch one; we watch the bird nests and look out for big fish and sea turtles and I cannot wait until she is old enough to take her whale watching.
With her recent emotional maturity evidenced by tantrums and fear of the nighttime, she has started to talk to me about her feelings. On our regular walks she points out every lizard she sees, and says, “I love HIM.” And “I love HIM.” And “I love HIM.” Then she sees the kitty cat, Inky, and says, “ I love HIM.”
I was beginning to realize the errors of my ways, as I must have referred to every living thing over the last two years as a “him.” OPPS. BIG OPPS.
“Inky is a girl kitty cat, Eva.” I say.
She looks at me confused.
“No titty tat is a boy.”
We disagree for quite sometime about this fact until I give up, and go in search of a toad and a snail, which I then refer to as HER. “
“I love HIM.” She says back.
“NO, her “ I say back and she looks at me confused. I realize I am digging myself quite a hole with a toddler.
“Yes you do love the snail but the snail is a girl.”
“No, a boy.”
Later that night I took her out of her bath and she asked to be held like a baby, so I wrapped her up in the towel and started singing, “Hush little baby,” to which she laughed hysterically and then without warning she announced,
“When I grow up I am going to be a boy. “
“But you are a girl.” I said.
“ No! When I grow up I am going to be a boy and play football.”
“Oh!” I said, “But girls play football too.”
“No Boys! “
These ideas about gender had obviously been subconsciously if not outrightly implied and she had been ruminating about it all day, or perhaps all year. I knew I should have been worried a few months ago when she picked up a baby coconut and pretended it was a penis, and tried to pee standing up.
There are some things women just shouldn’t do but football is not one of them. I will teach her, she will learn. I might have to try and play football just to prove a point. That would be funny. I should video that too. Watch this space.
P.S. My mom posed for the reenactment of the scene below. Who says she doesn’t love my blog!
Xx Derelict Mom.