Magical Mispronunciations

A parent does everything they can to avoid sadness or heartache for their child yet it’s an unavoidable part of living just as much as the laughter. For my mother, nothing agitated her more than a child of hers expressing disappointment or sadness. Yet nothing garnered more praise than making her laugh.

The thing is, she felt she had sacrificed everything to ensure our happiness because she loved us so much and yet the cruel irony is that most of those acts guaranteed our suffering. In the heat of an argument with her I could never shake the feeling of us speaking in the same language but our native tongue being of different origins because, in truth, we were of very different homelands. Both neurodivergent but both from different worlds. I am dyslexic and she was autistic.

She debated it and argued with me over it for years but I’ve never met someone like her who demanded that she “didn’t need friends” yet couldn’t stand to be alone, insisted on living in clutter and had an endless amount of dirty sticky notes with random snatches of phone numbers and quotes throughout her belongings, owned more scissors and gadgets than a corner store, could solve any sudoku or word puzzle, and shouted out the answers to “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” before anyone else AND was right. She also misread most people’s facial expressions yet could read a room better than most. The cliche of a “jumble of contradictions” never suited someone so well.

Because she also was the most generous person I’ve ever known. The most brilliant strategist when it came to simple problem solving to something as complicated as government social service policy yet could not puzzle out the mess of her life. She was the champion of the underdog, the lover of anything strange, and had endless patience for her grandchildren. 

One of her favorite combinations being mispronunciations or misunderstandings over idioms and expressions. We called them “magical mispronunciations”.

How do we inspire hope in our children or ourselves living the way we are now? For me, it’s finding the humor. Like the miniscule moments of hilarity when they misuse an expression or mispronounce a word. I can hear my mother’s laughter in my mind as I revel in those juxtaposed scenes of pure joy amongst the heartache and anxiety of this new existence. A world living through a pandemic as we speed towards possible disaster yet we have to enjoy what we can, while we can, with those we love.

In the evening, we’ve been binge watching shows that we never made the time for in the past. At times it becomes more of a game of negotiations to decide on one as a group but a few stood out as favorites for all four of us. One of those being “Parks and Recreation”. I would fast forward over the scandalous Ron and Tammy scenes or episodes, anything clearly inappropriate, but that didn’t detract from their love of the show. Owen loved Terry/Jerry/Gary’s pratfalls, Tom’s farfetched business schemes, and Andy’s slapstick hijinx. Leonora loved Leslie’s intensity and Ron’s friendship with her. She’s even inspired to learn more about woodworking.

So one of those evenings she turned to me and asked if we could watch “Parks and “Wreck-your-Asian” “. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Owen and I cracked up laughing and she did as well but was asking, “What? Why are you laughing?” I calmly explained, once I could catch my breath, as to how to pronounce “recreation” and she felt awful that she had said something that could have offended someone. I reassured her that we all make mistakes and that the important part was that she knew what it was and how to work on that. In this case, that “recreation” is not an ethnicity. We all agreed to start calling it “Parks and Rec”.

Owen teased her about it until I reminded him of some of his mispronunciations. He groaned, laughed, and hid his head under one of his stuffies. Leonora prompted me, “Tell, mama, tell!”

I love to hear those words from them, “Tell me a story…”

So I began and they huddled around smiling waiting to hear about their cousin mistaking the word “centerpiece” for “caterpillar” and mixing up the meanings as well. From that point on in our family a “centerpiece” was called a “cat-a-litter” and “caterpillars” were called “cent-o-penes”. Then there was the time Owen decided “construction” was called “constipation”. Not to be outdone by Leonora referring to “constipation” as “consolidation” as a toddler. (If you ask me, that makes far more sense, especially in the corporate world.)

How Leonora as a toddler used to call the “fog”, “froggy”, and pronounced one foggy morning, “It pretty “froggy” out here.” Ever since our family calls the fog, “froggy”.

Or the time at the Burgerville drive thru that I turned to the kids and asked them what they wanted and Leonora shouted as we neared the microphone, “I wantz my bootie shake!” What she thought she said was “blueberry shake”. Except they didn’t have them AND the employee couldn’t stop laughing from the request for a “bootie shake”. I ended up tipping her for her response, “Don’t we all kid.”

Then there was Owen’s belief that “commiserate” meant to bake something and talk except he mispronounced the word as well so he requested that we “communism” over some cookies. (Side note, what is with “c” words being such a challenge for my kids?!)

Owen and I were walking hand-in-hand after dropping off his sister at kindergarten one day. I was distracted and he was upset that we had dropped her off so on the walk home he bolted from me into the street. I had to run after him and scoop him up. He began pounding on me and announcing, “These are NOT my options!” 

Except what he said though was, “ ‘Deez ah NOT my op-ee-chins!”

There was also the indoor playground we attended where he became upset with another child who tried to eat his snack and Owen yelled at him, “Don’t touch-ie my NUTS!” That one was hilariously awkward.

Much like when we were at the mall (one of his favorite places when he was five) and he broke out dancing to the song that came on in the middle of Barnes & Nobles, gyrating his hips, and belting out to the Starbucks customers, “Uptown Junk”. The lesser known version of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”.

Not to be outdone by a recent conversation with his sister about churches and his lack of respect for the arts by mishandling their air dry clay by making aliens.

“Keep it up Owen and we’ll leave you outside one of THOSE churches.”

“Which churches are those?!”

“You know, the ones that put the homeless people sculptures out front at Christmas.”

I interrupted to ask, “Do you mean a manger?”

“Yeah, those things.”

But my favorite mispronunciations were the ones that stuck. Owen’s first attempt to say his sister’s name and settling on “Na-na”. Leonora’s first attempt at her brother’s name and landing on “O-ee”. Yet the one I miss hearing the most is the kids saying “Gan-ma”.

I’m down to the final boxes of her things. I brought out momentos to share with the kids. Relics of my childhood. Souvenirs my mother saved all these years. Misshapen sculptures I made for her when I was their age. Paintings. A strange school project of photos attached to a piece of burlap with fake flowers. They laughed with me over them and were awed by the thought I put into the needlework and clothes for my mom.

Her cardigans still smelled of her. Freshly laundered. Absent of the cigarettes that killed her. I was thankful for that. It’s a sad consolation to hold them instead of her. Owen asked to see them. He breathed into them and smiled, “They smell like grandma.” I tucked some of them away in separate plastic sealed bags so that I could save a few for the days when I forget what her scent was long after I know I’ll hear anyone say “ganma” again.


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