Monday, September 21, 2009


I am struggling to learn a whole new language. I'm not learning to speak it, but just to understand it. I'm not listening to CDs and I'm not attending a class, and my training is happening within my own four walls. If you're not jealous, you definitely should stay that way.

This is way worse than college French, or Spanish when we lived in South America. You see, South Americans smile and engage you when you try to speak to them in their language. They are encouraging and helpful. And my French professor, ooo laa laa, was tres tres magnifique!

I'm learning Teenager, a language of short, curt, surly phrases that I can't quite hear, much less decipher. In this language I have two seconds to understand and then respond to what is being said before the speaker is gone, vamoosed into the land of written communication that doesn't require annunciation, eye contact or even waiting for a response.

I am beginning to sound much older than I am, like a granny whose hearing aids are not adjusted right. I am routinely saying, "What?" or "Say that again" or "AH dint undastan a woood you jus sed," like that chicken farmer on Napolean Dynamite. I feel old and clueless, like I am a sagging remnant of anything worthwhile or cool.

Just when I feel that my self esteem couldn't plunge any farther into the toilet, I realize that Darren can't understand anything our teenager is saying either. And that he is also saying things like "Come again?" "WHAT?" and "I CAN'T UNDERSTAND YOU!" And this is a guy whose youthfulness, energy and language skills are legend. This makes me feel slightly less pathetic but not much.

When we press for more detailed answers from our teenager, such as "I am going to go to Heather's house, and I will be home at 10 pm" AND demand that she look us in the eye, she acts as though we've asked her to give up her cell phone for life. When we ask her to repeat herself, you know, come again?, she looks at us as if we are one step away from the nursing home down the street.

The language of Teenager has only one and two-syllable words. Most of them are "yeah" "no" "later" "OK!" or "duh!" One would think that would make it more understandable, but it doesn't. It requires saying "what?" more than any other language, routinely feeling stupid and throwing oneself on the couch and swearing under one's breath when the teenager has left the room.

Once in a while my teenager's eyes will look up at me. Yes, look AT me. I remember how pretty her eyes are. She'll smile and her teeth are white and perfect and straight and I'll remember how much her braces cost and how that smile really lights up her face.

I notice her hair, how it's this beautiful spun gold color that people would pay big bucks for. She's got this lower body hip stuff going on that I never had and don't know where it came from. She's just beautiful. And I want to freeze the image and pretend that when she opens her mouth something fluent and interesting and pleasant will come out.

And that I will be able to understand it and not look like a washed-up has been, cowering into the couch with my Metamucil and crossword puzzle.

She says something in Teenager and I say, "What?" She glares at me.

"Are you going deaf?" she asks.

"Undoubtedly," I respond. "But only when you're speaking."

"What?" she asks.

"Are YOU going deaf?" I ask.

"Whatever," she says and vanishes to find someone who can communicate on her level.

Oh, my gosh, that was three syllables!!! I take a celebratory swig of Metamucil, adjust my reading glasses and start to work on 2 down. A eight letter word for improvement.

Progress! No duh! Maybe things are looking up.


Kirstin said...

Ellen, you kill me! All I can say is thank you. I thought I was the only one heading downhill in every way imaginable. It's not us at all, It's THEM!

Macy said...

I loved reading this! You are a gifted writer. :) You made me smile today!

Judy said...

Ellen, you should be writing a humor column for the D. News instead of Anne Cannon. You are a much better writer and funnier!!

As a teenager YOU were much more verbose--you said things like: "But it's all settled. Everyone is going.They are expecting me. I have to go. Bye." Yes, sentences and "Where are my jeans? I don't have any clean clothes. Why doesn't anyone ever do the laundry?"

Marshall and Alison said...

I loved this! You are an unbelievably talented writer. Sammie is beautiful, I am sorry she is also unintelligable :)

Trisha said...

This is great! Scott, Heather, and I got a kick out of it. Scott and I can totally relate!