So many words carry an image with them that leave me with a smile. "Meadow," for example, takes me to tall grasses and wildflowers with nary a tract home in sight. The word "beach" brings the image of wind-whipped hair and waves crashing to the shore. And "baby" conjures up tender roly-poly thighs with more folds than muscle. Oh, yipes. I just realized the word "forty" is linked to that very same image, though in a sense that's more likely to evoke an "ewwww" than an "awwwww."
Then there are other words that even an optimist like me is hard pressed to find a pleasant connection to. Take the word "baggage," for example. I might feel better about the term if I traveled with a matching set of Louis Vuitton suitcases and my own personal valet. But until I can find a piece marked down at TJ Maxx for $29.99, complete with a matching bellhop, I will continue to grab protectively at my lower back the minute the word is uttered.
It recently occurred to me, though, that it's really the emotional kind of baggage that is heavier than a Samson-sized Samsonite- You know, the type they slap an excess-poundage sticker on at the check-in counter. This is the stuff we hand down limb-by-limb on our family tree the same way we do our eye color, peanut allergies and the predisposition to harvest and house cellulite on our ham hocks.
I have to admit that my parents went pretty easy on me, ensuring my inherited "issues" would fit comfortably in an overnight bag instead of an ocean-faring freight container. Sure, there was the drama from Mom's childhood of nearly drowning in the mighty Kern River, which resulted in an obsessive number of swimming lessons for my brother and me. Even more disturbing than our kelp green hair was the fact that Mom's cheers were always a little too enthusiastic. While her mouth congratulated the form of our backstroke, her bug eyes read: "Thank God you didn't die in there!"
I'm afraid my own misadventures will send my daughters packing elephants for India.
On one pallet I have loaded the idea that girls should not wear their hair short. This means that Posh Spice, Rihanna and Katie Holmes can set any trend they want, but my girls must be identifiable as females at a distance of at least 100 feet. This would make perfect sense to you if your mother had talked you into a Dorothy Hamill haircut in 4th grade that resulted in a substitute teacher shouting out to you and your table partner: "Are you boys finished with your work yet?" This, as you may have guessed, was now the second time I had to pack an emotional duffle.
As my girls can attest, I soon graduated to a proper suitcase, which I have handed down to them as an anti-heirloom to schlep about, without even the benefit of some slick wheels to roll it with. Inside is a load of fear of malapropisms, or using the wrong word for a given context. Let's just say I pounce on them the same way the mother of a newborn would a good night's sleep whenever they write or "udder" the wrong word.
This is due to the humiliation via vocabulary I experienced in 6th grade when I stood up to announce my current event to the class by paraphrasing the title "Cupertino Junior High Gym Burns Down: Suspect Arson" by saying "They think a guy named Arson burned down the gym." Lest you wonder if my classmates would have made the same mistake, their hysteria pointed to an emphatic no-they-would-not.
Nine years of safe, monosyllabic words later, I pulled a Britney and, well, oops, I did it again. The mistake began when I decided to attend a fraternity party on the way home from a human sexuality class. Flustered, surely, by all the how-to of the lecture, I tried to catch the eye of a Mr. Couldvebeen by competing in a drinking game called "Famous Names" with him and ten of his friends. Because the guy before me came up with the name Peter Uberoff (the organizer of the 1988 Olympic Games), I needed to come up with the name of a famous person whose first name started with "U." Being by far a better student of human sexuality than I was in the school of flirtation, I blurted out "Urethra Franklin"... and instantly lost the "r-e-s-p-e-c-t" of everyone in the room. I slithered away, deciding it best not to point out that each of them had used their urethra when they peed themselves with laughter over my blunder.
Now that I am 20 years clean of public shame about word choice and wear my hair shoulder length and chlorine-free, my only concern is that the image that comes to mind when my daughters hear the word "Mom" will look less like my sweet face and more like a barge of baggage taking on water.
Causes Shana Moore Supports