Momisms: When I Open My Mouth
“Rise and shine,” my mother would urge, trying to rouse three uncooperative children in the 1960s. “Breakfast is ready.” Then, when she didn’t hear any footsteps, she’d add, “Are you waiting for an engraved invitation?” Her tone had just the right amount of snark in it to disguise any hint of impatience.
Fifty-five years later, I’m patting the sofa to invite my husband to join me. “Come watch Jeopardy,” I say. Randy doesn’t sprint from the adjacent kitchen. A few minutes later I invite him again. Still no response. “Do you need an engraved invitation?” I ask, my voice sounding eerily familiar, though not like my own.
Oh my God, I think. Who said that? A few days later, Randy and I are getting ready to leave for a dinner reservation. “Let’s get this show on the road,” I say. I stop. Look around. Another phantom expression has sprung from my lips.
In the coming months, I become aware of more phrases and full sentences that seem to fly, unbidden, from my mouth. “This blanket has seen better days,” I say as I cast it into the donation pile. “You look like you’re at death’s door,” I observe as Randy reaches for the NyQuil. But when I call the television the “idiot box,” I know I’m truly possessed.
I email my older brother Kurt. “I’m suddenly, unconsciously, channeling Mom,” I write. She’s been gone for about a decade. I share some of the expressions I’ve recently uttered. Has he had any similar incidents?
“I told Elizabeth to ‘shake a leg” the other day,” he replies. “I’ve never said that aloud before. I think I also said, ‘This, too, shall pass.’ Or maybe it was, ‘Stranger things have happened.’ Whatever it was, I know it was something Mom always said.”
And so “Momisms” were born. And a new tradition of frequent emailing or calling one another to share some pearls of wisdom my mother routinely dropped. From “That must have gone down the wrong pipe,” to “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Kurt and I keep up regular communications as Momisms erupt uninvited from our lips. And, as we keep in touch, I realize we’re keeping her spirit alive – her inimitable way of comforting, encouraging, educating, philosophizing, scolding, and loving us. Momisms may not work as well when we say them to our spouses, but they truly come from the heart. And they’ve formed a special bridge between siblings who might otherwise have drifted apart.
We also deduce that there was a common thread running through our mother’s platitudes: She was a lot wittier than we realized as children. When she said, “You seem to have made a miraculous recovery,” after we stayed home from school only to beg for a play date at 3:30pm, there was an underlying drollness to her words. We know, because when they emerge from us now we recite them with the same intonation.
Finally, I’ve come to realize that my Momisms might well be yours too. Randy tells me his mother also said, “Quick, quick like a bunny” and “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” Momisms, common sense observations about life, may be nearly universal.
It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday, a time to honor the women who nurtured us. And thanks to Momisms, they’ll always be with us.