Photo: Got these classic silhouettes done of the boys last week… they came out even better than I could have imagined. The 90 year-old woman who does them is a hoot, and a skilled crafts woman, and she does them with a single pair of scissors live on the spot. Seriously. Such a treasure. I’m giving these to family members for Christmas and I cannot wait! ) If you live in or near Massachusetts, you need this in your life.
Two weeks ago or so, I was tasked with getting the boys dressed so that they could go outside and bother their father for a while. The boys, of course, were being squirmy and not terribly cooperative, so each step of the process was a hassle and I was starting to lose my patience. The following happened next:
Me, to Ursa Major, who was fidgeting when I was fastening his overalls: Listen, I need ya’ll to focus! I’m trying to get you dressed so you can go outside!
Ursa Major, with a puzzled look on his little face: “Ya’ll?” What’s a “Y’all?” Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll?
Ursa Major falls into a fit of giggles.
Me: Are you making fun of me?
Ursa Major, still laughing: Yes! Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll!
Ursa Minor, who had been playing and not paying attention, decides to participate, too: Ya’ll! Ya’ll! Ya’ll! hahahahahahahahaha Ya’ll!
It was a funny moment, yes, but it still left an impression. It’s not like I’ve never said “ya’ll” to or in front of my boys before… but it was the first time that Ursa Major noticed the word because it’s a word that no one else in his life seems to say. I felt like a yokel for a fraction of a second… then I remembered what my uncle said to me a few months ago:
“After all, you’re raising two New Englanders…”
And it’s like my ears seemed to open up and I started really listening to Ursa Major and how he speaks.
“Mama, I’d like some wah-tah, please.”
“Mama! I see a fi-yah truck!”
“Mama, I don’t wanna go up the stay-yahs!”
What….. what even…. how in the…?
There are many reasons why this is a little bit hilarious. People from the DC Metro area (real people who are actually from there) don’t really have an accent. People often tell me that I have a “TV” accent… as in, there is nothing remarkable about how I speak. Sure, DC has funky vocabulary and pronunciation of some things (Warshington instead of Washington, Cookouts instead of Barbecues, tennis shoes instead of sneakers… don’t get my started on half-smokes and mambo sauce), but for the most part we speak in a pretty generic way. So to experience the beginnings of a regional dialect in my son is just a fascinating thing that I get to watch.
But I’m also sorta fighting against it. Why? I don’t know… Maryland pride? Disdain for the New England accent? The fact that the New England accent is very closely tied to class? Don’t jump all over me about that statement: I don’t want him to sound like a Kennedy any more than I want him to sound like a 4th-gen Boston constable… both accents are iconic, and not necessarily in a good way. Of all of the currents that he’s going to have to swim against, I don’t need a class marker put on him as soon as he opens his mouth. I want him to sound normal when he speaks.
So that, of course, takes me back to my childhood. Just like it was yesterday: “My daughters will speak the King’s English,” my Father would proclaim whenever my sister and I let loose an “ain’t got no” or some such within earshot. Lord, can I hear it! The whole lecture! My sister and I would go to school, listen to the other kids speak, come home and put our hands on our hips and just start speaking in that other tongue and my Father would lose his mind. “A lady speaks with power! A lady speaks properly always! No daughters of mine will speak like they just walked out of Anacostia!”
So I’m not trying to do that. I swear, I’m not. How would I even go about doing that? “A Marylander properly enunciates his ending -er sounds!”
That would be a little bit ridiculous.
I have, however, just done some simple correcting.
“Mama, I want some wah-tah, please.”
“I don’t have any wah-tah, but I have some water.”
“Uh, yes, water. Water, please.”
Of course, the mystery was where in the world he would pick up this accent. The Husband and I don’t have it, neither does my neighbor (long time resident, but transplant before that), and most of the moms at preschool are from other places (New Jersey, Connecticut… so forth). So where?
Clarity came last week when I was parent helping. I’m cutting up blueberry bread in the kitchen and I’m hearing Major and Minor’s favorite teacher do some pretend-play with the blocks. “Who wants to build a fi-yah station with me? Won’t that be so much fun?”
Well I’ll be darned…
It’s not a heavy accent. Not like the exaggerated kind that you see on TV. But it’s just enough… and my boys love this woman so much, that of course that little subtlety would come out at home! And of course, I barely hear the accent any more because I’ve been here so long… but for the boys… it makes perfect sense.
I’m not really worried about the boys picking up a little bit of New Englander sound. It would be an entirely futile effort to try to stop them from picking it up. Despite my Father’s tirades, my sister and I learned how to code-switch between casual language and “The King’s English” with ease. The boys will, some day, experiment in all of that as well. And that’ll be fine, too. Can you turn an accent on and off the same way you can code-switch depending on what neighborhood you’re in? I wonder…We’ll see.
I’m a Marylander raising New Englanders. I don’t even know what that means. I guess I’d better learn, though, because they are learning lessons every day that I’m not teaching them. <— that is the scariest thing I’ve ever typed.
I’m feeling a little frustrated, dear reader, and I’m sure you can relate. We were very productive as a family this weekend, getting a lot of necessary things done. Yet, when I think back, I didn’t get any thing done on my own list of things I wanted to get done! So I’m sitting here with a week’s task-list that is as long as my arm, none of it is easy, all of it will take large chunks of time and, as my Google calendar is so happy to remind me, I have very little of it! It’s going to be a tight week… I hope I can get it all done, and maybe come out on the other side with a little bit of grace and patience left over. (This is doubtful, to be clear). It doesn’t help that I lifted some boxes that were way too heavy for me, agitating my lower back and putting me in a lot of pain. I don’t have a lot of time to properly rest and, because of my high blood pressure, I can’t just pop advils until it all goes away so… it’s gonna be a long week. 🙁
But we press on despite the obstacles! We have no other choice! So get out there and get something done! I’ll tell you what I manage to accomplish on Wednesday! 🙂
Until then, take care.