Sunday, August 26, 2007

Code Words

When my daughters were young, we came up with code words for certain situations. There was one for “secure pickup at school”, which frankly, I don’t think any of us ever remembered. Another one to tell the alarm company when one of us accidentally set off the alarm code at home; although we had to finally ink it in a cabinet bottom because, again, no one ever remembered it and the police come out pretty quickly in our town.

But there was one code word that the kids took to like ducks to water. “Interesting”. The idea was to replace a jarring one-word description in sensitive situations with a more palatable one. Or at least that was the original idea. It started out well at first.

Great-Aunt (retired teacher): How do you like your teacher this year?
Daughter #1: She sucks.
Me (clearing throat): Ah_hem
Daughter #1: I mean, she’s interesting.

But the girls soon figured out that they could also use this word to their advantage, and have a good smirk at the same time.

My MoM: Did you enjoy reading that article I gave you on new ways to combat diarrhea?
Me: Uh, um, well I, I started to read it. . . .
Daughter #1 or #2: Yeah, mom, remember, you said it was interesting (and here she smirks).

Give the word some credit, “Interesting”, actually is a pretty versatile word, and is good for lots of wiggling room in delicate situations. It got me thinking about how we use lots of code words every day to mask the message or lessen the impact. Daughter #2 leaves early tomorrow for college Leaving On A Jet Plane and started to complain yesterday about a dry scratchy throat. She has a propensity for getting sick very quickly, and this past winter dealt with a lot of asthma attacks and bronchial illness—2,694 miles away at college. So, when she asked me to look at her throat yesterday, and I leaped off the couch in concern, she quickly said, “It’s probably not red, mom, it’s probably just allergies. "Allergies" and "red" being a code words for “don’t worry, mom, as soon as I get out of the dusty desert Monday, I’ll be fine and even if I’m probably getting sick, I don’t want you to worry about it.”

So both Husband and I responded with our own code words. “You’re probably right but why don’t we just plan on hitting the Urgent Care Center first thing Sunday morning since you’re leaving on a plane the next day? (Code for “Geeze, she’s gonna be sick and she’s getting on some germ and bacteria covered plane tomorrow–we are so going to the Urgent Care Center!”)

In the most serious situations, code words are even comforting, giving us a sense of security we can’t reach by ourselves. On Friday, Wonderful Father-in-law (really) called to tell us Wonderful Mother-in-law’s (really, her too) cancer is back. The last scan, which was only 5 weeks ago, was clean, but this one was not. Wonderful Mother-in-law was sleeping while we talked quietly with Wonderful-Father-in-law so we didn’t get to talk to her until later that night. The doctor thinks he can knock this latest bout of stage four lung cancer back down again, and he wouldn’t ask her to go through treatment again if he wasn’t confident she could tolerate it and get some benefit. When the phone rang later that night, it was Wonderful Mother-in-law. She talked to each of us in turn, asking about work, social life, and other little things. We all desperately wanted to hear from her directly that she was willing to restart the treatment regiment, but didn't want to ask her. It was a normal conversation except for the life preserver she threw us at the end in code, “I’ve got my boxing gloves on”.

Sometimes code words are just better than explicit words.

3 comments:

musing said...

So sorry to hear your mother-in-law's cancer has come back, but I'm glad she's still fighting.

Confessions from the sandwich generation said...

Thank you, Musing. I wish neither one of us had to deal with this.

Nourishing Relationships said...

Your post is a classic example of the Sandwich Generation squeeze, with your daughter leaving for college and your husband's Mom facing new challenges. I had a lobectomy for lung cancer two years ago, so I understand. And I can see your family's code word for support, written between the lines.