My children have learned how to conjugate verbs in four, or in my sons case, five different languages. But do they use any of that knowledge to communicate with me? Nope. One word suffices to get their message across.
Depending on intonation, rhythm, volume and breaking up of the word in two, or sometimes even three non existing syllables, a single ‘mum’ cuts straight to the chase. ‘Mum’ sounding loudly and yet strangely muffled at the same time, means that one of my kids can’t find his or her P.E. kit, homework, guitar, or favourite jumper. It might by the way also mean that they can’t find the butter, chocolate sprinkles, bread rolls, or – my favourite – have run out of loo paper whilst sitting on the toilet.
With their head stuck in a kitchen cabinet, sock drawer, or laundry basket they expect me to magically pull whatever it is that they want (need!!!) out of a top hat. I can not seem to make them understand that stuff could also be at the bottom of a pile, behind something else on a shelf, or still in one of the zillions of bags shattered around our house.
‘Mum’ uttered in a kind of whiny tone of voice however conveys a different set of messages in our family. ‘I told you I have a tummy ache and you’re not responding to it the way that I want you to’, certainly is one of them. As are: ‘I left my rain jacket in some changing room somewhere and now I am cold and wet and it is all your fault’, ‘I failed my geography test and it is so unfair, because I did study for it and by the way, it is all your fault’, or ‘I left my lunchbox at home and you did not want to bring it and now I am soooo hungry and it is definitely your fault and did you know that you are the worst mum in the world’.
‘Muhum’, or ‘muhuhum’ repeated over and over, combined with a rolling of the eyes is my children’s way of telling me that I have never been more wrong in my life than when I suggested they bring waterproof trousers on a day trip to the zoo in November. Or when I tell them I don’t want to watch Harry Potter at two in the afternoon on a gloriously sunny day, nor want to teach them how to bake at nine ‘o clock at night (but you always say we are going to .., but when I ask you, you never feel like it’).
My children ‘mum’ from dawn to dusk, preferably simultaneously, never doubting my superwoman powers to listen to my daughter playing guitar in her bedroom upstairs, while at the same time searching for my son’s maths book in the kitchen downstairs. They also seriously expect me to not bat an eyelid when they need me to hand wash their team sports socks that they forgot to put in the laundry bin a week ago. And didn’t I know they need those socks tonight? And all that while I am busy cooking dinner.
When I finally sit down for a spot of apathetic gazing at the telly, I hear a softly whispered ‘mum’ coming from upstairs. It is my 10yo daughter who should have been asleep by now. She needs to know whether we have any cardboard. ‘It is for a present for you’, she hastily adds when she sees my
face. I leave without getting too cross with her, but ten minutes or so later she lures me into her
bedroom again. Covered in glue, paper, ribbon and beaming radiantly she hands me a giant card. ‘To mum, you are a’ it reads, followed by a massive and very sparkly star. And you know what? I think she has a point.