Joanne Palmer: Mother tongue |

Joanne Palmer: Mother tongue

Joanne Palmer

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

I am bilingual. I am fluent in Doglish and Momlish, the languages I speak at home.

Because the dog and the teenager sleep a lot and frequently are unresponsive (read: ignore me), I have become adept at reading body language, picking up on nonverbal cues and, dare I say it, bribing them with food. Yes, it's sad but true, I have had to develop creative ways of communicating with both of them.

When the dog wants something, she stares at it. She loves looking at her food dish. I keep it full, but she frequently parks herself next to it, cocks her head and stares at it as if to say, "That's it? Where's the filet mignon?"

No matter how many times I tell her, "That's it, that's your dinner," she continues to stare, hoping I will change my mind. She will look at her food for 30 minutes, then walk away in a snit.

To get her to eat, I have to say, "Sauce, sauce," and squeeze some expensive sauce on top of her food. Then she happily eats it. To get her to go out in the morning, I have to say, "Treat, treat," and throw a dog treat out the door.

Like the dog, my teenager thinks obsessively about food. He constantly is hungry. However, he doesn't stare at food, he inhales it. He'd love steak for dinner every night. The other night I called him and said, "Time to come home for dinner," and he replied, "They're having steak over here, so I'll be home later."

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The three most common words teenagers use are "dope," "sick" and "sketch." None mean what you might think. Let me give you an example.

Teenager: Aww, Mom, do you see that black Porsche at the traffic light? It's so sick.

Mom: Are you sick? Let me feel your forehead.

Teenager: I meant the car.

Mom: The car is sick?

Teenager: You are too old to understand our lingo.

Mom: You are so uptight.

Teenager: Huh?

Mom: You are too young to understand my lingo. That's how I used to talk to my mother. Uptight means stressed out.

Teenager: It's sick, meaning cool.

Mom: We used to say "boss." That's so boss. As for the Porsche, it just looks like an expensive car payment.

"Dope" also means cool, and "sketch" means shady, as in that person is not to be trusted.

If you want a teenager to pay the least bit of attention to you, every sentence must contain a reference to food, as in, "Good morning, there are doughnuts downstairs." Or, "I've been to the grocery store, and how was your day?" Sentences such as these will guarantee you about 5 percent of their attention. If you want 50 percent of their attention, you have to say something like, "Food. Food. Food. Car. Car. Car. Fast food. Fast food. Fast food. Now will you clean your room?" Most likely, you still will be ignored, but it is worth a try.

If you want 100 percent of their attention, try: "You. Can. Drive." Quickly follow that with "Takeoutthegarbagecleanyourroommowthelawn," and you may have a chance.

As for the dog, any sentence that begins with "Treat, treat, time for a treat," will cause her to prick up her ears and listen. As a last resort, and I am not proud of this, I can call out "Cat!" and she will at least glance over her shoulder in my direction.


It's not easy being bilingual. I could get confused and yell "cat" to my son and "drive" to the dog. But most likely it won't matter.

They will be asleep.

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