June 26th, 2007



I'm not sure where it came from originally...some John Hughes pre-brat pack movie possibly, like Pretty in Pink, but do you know that totally teenager response to something someone says that starts like this only in a really sarcastic tone with a slight head-tilt/shake and an roll of the eyes thrown in for good measure?: Hell-o

It looks pretty innocuous there in black and white type on the computer screen, doesn't? Hello. 2 short syllables. Only in this context it's no greeting, but a smart alecky wake-up jolt designed to denigrate the recipient's intelligence and call their ancestry into question, to boot. When you say it, you never actually speak aloud the unspoken second phrase that silently accompanies that sarcastic hello but when you hear it, it insinuates itself into your brain regardless: how stupid are you? it says. Or DUH, only really oily and lipcurly.

My kids say it to each other and to us all the time. The problem is: they got it from me. And I think it's probably something I and my siblings have been saying to each other for years without really thinking about it. It's so ingrained that most of the time none of us even hear it, or hear how it sounds.

It sounds awful.

Now I have to figure out how to go about eradicating it from our daily repartee.

I grew up in a family of, apart from my mom, smart-mouth snappy answerers. All 3 of us kids got it from my dad, and it became deeply entrenched in each of us because it was FUNNY and funny was the best defense against my father's temper. If you could make him laugh, you could often divert his attention from whatever it was you were about to get ripped a new one for. The thing is, my dad died over 10 years ago, and not only are the 3 of us STILL in that pattern of language attack and defense mode, but 2 of us (so far) are propagating a new generation of wiseacres.

Now, I love a snappy comeback and witty reponses as much as the next guy, but I noticed at one of our family gatherings a year or so ago, because I was suddenly hearing us from someone else's point of view, how UGLY it can sound, and how MEAN.

How do you break a habit like that? One that you've grown up on and survived with? One that seems to fly out of you without any conscious intent? How do you slow your mouth-brain connection down enough to squash such rejoinders and gently encourage your children to find other ways to interact with you and each other?

Now, THERE'S a summer project I can sink my teeth into.