The Rockwood Files: The Royal We

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

After you become part of a couple or get married, “you” become a “we,” and “we” is a powerful pronoun.

rp_crown2-1024x752.jpgCouples begin many of their sentences with the word “we,” and they’re particularly fond of “the royal we.” In case you’re not familiar with the royal version, “the royal we” was originally used by kings and queens to suggest they were acting in conjunction with the people over whom they ruled. Queen Victoria is famous for the quote “We are not amused.”

But couples tend to use it for more practical reasons, like passively handing off responsibility for a task to someone else, while giving the illusion that we are in this thing together. Here’s an example of the royal we in action:

“We should get up early and take the puppy outside for a bathroom break.”

Now if the we is not specifically clarified, both he and she go to bed thinking the other half of the royal we is going to take care of said puppy. Then the next morning, there’s a puddle on the floor and “we” are definitely not happy about it. Now “we” have to clean this up.

See how easily the royal we can go astray?

That being said, I definitely use “the royal we” to my advantage. After 17 years of marriage, my husband knows that when I say, “We should really put down new mulch in these flower beds,” I am referring to the “he” part of “we.” The “she” part of “we” prefers to avoid the pollen and supervise the job by staying inside and glancing out the window supportively. If the flower beds get new mulch, it’s always the “he” part of “we” that gets it done.

Of course, there are also times when Tom benefits from use of the royal we. If we bump into a friend with a new baby, I might say, “We saw your baby announcement and we think your baby girl is just beautiful. Her big blue eyes are amazing!”

Tom will nod his head and offer his congratulations, even though he knows that the “we” refers only to me, who actually looked at the birth announcement and sent a gift. The “he” part of “we” never laid eyes on the birth announcement and was probably not even aware that the friend was pregnant.

Once “the royal we” have children, the kids learn how to get in on the act and take advantage of the pronoun’s perks. Not long ago, our middle-schooler said, “Mom, we forgot to wash my gym clothes and put them in my backpack.”

What that sentence translates to is this: “I forgot to take my stinky gym clothes out of my backpack and give them to you for washing because I was far too busy playing whatever iPhone app happens to be cool this week. I also forgot that I’ve been taught how to use the washing machine, which means I could’ve washed the gym clothes by myself. But I will use the royal we in this sentence on the off chance that it will trigger some misplaced mom guilt and get me off the hook.

we are not amusedThe kids also like to say that “we” lost the remote control and now “we” really need to find it, even though “we” can’t be bothered to lift a sofa cushion and find the thing.

Needless to say, sometimes use of “the royal we” is more about a person’s reluctance to get off his or her royal duff, and, to that, I’ll reply by borrowing that famous line from Queen Victoria: “We are not amused.”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: The measure of a man

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

For months now, 14-year-old Adam has been asking: “How about now?” And I’ve been saying, “No, absolutely not. You’re still a kid.”

He kept on asking, so certain the time had come. Last week, he asked yet again and insisted on standing back-to-back with me in the kitchen, our heels lined up and touching.

“Look, Dad. Am I taller than Mom yet?”

Tom looked closely from several angles before issuing the verdict. “You know… I think you are. Just barely, but you are a little taller than her.”

I shook my head in defiance. “No way. I think Dad is just telling you what you want to hear.” Still standing back-to-back, I put my hand on top of his head and then slid it over to the top of mine so I could judge for myself.

measure rulerAnd there it was – the oh-so-slight but undeniable dip that my hand made as it slid from the top of his head down to mine. It was true. My firstborn –the newborn small enough to fit into a Christmas stocking when he arrived in December, the baby who fit so perfectly in the crook of my arm during those sleepless nights he had colic – he is now taller than me.

My defiance turned into denial. “I still think I’m taller. And even if I’m not, I’m still the person who brought you into this world and changed your diapers, so let’s just remember who’s in charge of who.” I harrumphed off to the sofa while Adam celebrated the milestone of being able to – literally – look down on his mother.

I don’t know why it bothers me. It’s not as if I thought this day wouldn’t come. For many of my more petite friends, their sons and a few of their daughters were already standing eye-to-eye with them by the time the kids were in 6th grade. But I’m five feet, eight inches tall. I thought I’d have more time.

The fact that I’ve had to buy longer pants for this kid every three months for the past two years should have tipped me off that my days of towering over him were nearly over. There were other signs, too. About a year ago, I chatted with a friend on the phone while in the same room with the kids. Suddenly my friend noticed the background voices and asked “Is Tom home? I thought you said he was on a business trip.”

“He is on a trip. That’s just Adam.”

“THAT is Adam? His voice is so low!”

I hadn’t thought much about it until she pointed it out, but it was true. My kid’s voice had changed from that of a young boy to that of someone who could have sung back-up vocals for Barry White. While I’d been busy navigating parenthood’s highway, my kid had suddenly swerved right and took the on-ramp to young adulthood, leaving me with a wicked case of whiplash.

As freaky as it is to see him growing up so fast, there are certain perks. He can carry boxes that are too heavy for me, do his share of the laundry and reach stuff on the top shelf at the grocery store. But he better not pat me on the head and call me a “little mom.” I might not be able to pick him up like I did before or make him sit in the corner when he misbehaves, but I can cut off his supply of pizza and burritos and change the Wi-Fi password, and, for a teenager, that’s just as bad.

Who’s taller now, kid?

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Happy Mother’s Day

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I slid the wrapper off the straw, blew air through it and stabbed it through the plastic lid of my Chick-fil-A tea.

Eleven-year-old Jack questioned the move he has likely seen me do a thousand times. “Why do you always blow air through the straw before you put it in the drink?”

aunt-eunice4“Because that’s what Aunt Eunice always did.”

(Aunt Eunice was my smart, witty great aunt who taught me how to diagram sentences when I was a kid, just for fun. That’s her on the right, pictured with the cake she had on her 104th birthday. Aunt Eunice always gave me a can of Lipton tea every Sunday afternoon when I’d visit her. She’d pop the top of the can, pull a straw out of her cupboard, and blow air through it before sticking it into the can of tea.)

Jack pressed for a better explanation. “Why did Aunt Eunice always blow through the straw?”

“I asked her that question once. She said you never know whether or not a tiny bug has crawled into the straw, so she’d blow through it, just in case. You wouldn’t want to drink a bug, right?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Well, then, there you go.”

He seemed somewhat satisfied with the answer. But it made me realize just how many things I do simply because the women who came before me did them, too. The straw-blowing habit is one of them and fig jelly is another.

At our house, we eat fig jelly on toast. Why? Because that’s what my mom has smeared on toast since before I could even say the word toast. I love fig jelly. Every other jelly pales in comparison and my three kids agree, fig jellyeven though they definitely wouldn’t be able to identify an actual fig in a fruit line-up.

The only problem is that fig jelly is not exactly winning any popularity contests in the bread and jelly aisle. Lately I haven’t been able to find it at the store where we usually shop. It probably got bumped for a more modern, showy jelly like mango or blueberry lemon. Don’t get me wrong. Other jellies might be delicious, but my heart belongs to Braswell’s Fig Preserves. Anything else is just getting by.

So I drive across town to the one grocery store that still stocks it and hope I’m lucky enough to find it tucked away on the top shelf, overshadowed by red raspberry and blackberry fruit spread. The store usually has only two or three jars of fig, and I buy all of them just in case this is the last shipment.

The straw-blowing compulsion and the stockpile of fig jelly in my pantry help prove just how powerful a woman’s influence is – in little things and in big ones. So often, the “little voice” in our head belongs mostly to our mothers.

When I’m driving in a hard rain, the voice reminds me to slow down so the car won’t hydroplane. When I feel a sore throat coming on, the voice tells me to gargle with warm saltwater, even though I hate it. And when I’m worried or unsure, the voice reminds me God will take care of us.

One of the most humbling parts of becoming a mother myself is the knowledge that my voice is taking up residence in my own kids. I pray that voice will be a blessing and never a stumbling block. I pray it builds them up and makes them feel loved long after I’m gone. And I thank God I came from a long line of women who gave that same gift of love to me.

From our home to yours, Happy Mother’s Day.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Talking to Women, 101

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

We women have an obligation to the young men in our lives. We must teach them how to keep their manly feet out of their big mouths while talking to women.

Sometimes a man runs into trouble not because of the specific words he does or does not say but because his body language says things without him even knowing it. Our sons, ages 14 and 11, recently witnessed an example of this.

I’d just tried on a new pair of jeans I was unsure about. I found Tom cooking burgers in the kitchen and asked for his opinion on whether or not I should return the jeans or keep them.

Him: “No. I don’t like them. Not at all. Those are hugging you in all the wrong places.”

Me: (Stunned shock with aghast facial expression.)

Him: “What? You asked for my opinion. Did you not want me to tell you?”

Sensing one of their own was under attack, the boys came to their father’s aid.

Teenage son: “Yeah, Mom! You said you wanted his opinion and he told you.”

surprise emojiMe: “Okay, listen boys. For future reference, when a woman tries something on and asks if you like the jeans or the dress or the bathing suit or whatever it is, you have every right to say you don’t like it. But what you should NOT do is act like you’re witnessing a train wreck. You don’t want the expression on your face to say ‘Oh, the horror!’ And you definitely don’t want to use a phrase like ‘all the wrong places’ because it implies that the woman has ‘wrong places.’ See what I mean?”

Tom: “No, boys. Just remember that this kind of question is always a trap. Just say you have to use the bathroom and then sprint out of the room.”

Caught in the midst of a verbal tennis match, the boys looked to me for the answering volley.

Me: “That’s not true, boys. Women want an honest opinion but they want you to say it in a gentle way. You could say, ‘Hmmm…I guess those jeans are okay, but I think your other jeans are much better. You look great in your other jeans, but that pair isn’t my favorite.’ See? It’s less about what you say than how you say it. Understand?”

The boys and their father looked at me blank-faced, as if they honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my softer, gentler response and the one their father had delivered while grimacing, as if the sight of those ill-fitting jeans caused him actual pain.

Me: “Never mind. Go eat your burgers. I’m taking these jeans back to the mall.”

blue bell chocolate ice creamWe must also teach our young sons when to say nothing at all. A few days after the jeans incident, I’d had a particularly frustrating day at work and decided to reward myself for getting through it. I retrieved the tub of chocolate ice cream from the freezer, promising myself I’d only “clean up the edges” and then put it away.

I’d lost count of how many edges I’d cleaned up when 11-year-old Jack walked into the room. He peered into the ice cream container and said, “Geez, Mom.” As you might imagine, I didn’t appreciate his tone, not to mention those judgey eyes.

Me: “Listen, boy. Here’s an important life lesson. If you ever walk into a room and see a woman eating directly out of a carton of ice cream, you should say nothing. I mean zero. Don’t even look at her. Pretend you weren’t there at all. Just walk away.”

Jack nodded his head and backed safely out of the room without another word. I think these guys are finally catching on.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Your childhood is calling

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

phone2Eighteen years ago, I got a call from my best friend, Jennifer. I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom, surrounded by the chatter of other reporters, ringing phones and humming computers.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” she said. We’d been friends since fifth grade so I could tell by her voice it was big news, maybe even bigger than when we turned 16 and she called to say she was coming over because her parents had just handed her the keys to A RED CAR!

(We put a lot of miles on her car that day, most of which happened while cruising Main Street and circling Sonic so that as many people as possible could witness our coolness.)

“What’s up?” I said. I wondered if maybe she and her husband were going on a fun trip.

“I’m having a baby!”

Suddenly the noisy newsroom fell away and I could hear nothing but the echo of the word “baby” in my mind.

“You there?” she asked.

I shook off the shock and said, “Yes, but I can’t believe what you just said. This is amazing!”

I asked her questions about the due date and possible baby names. I was completely, genuinely happy for her – which made it hard to understand why I was also blinking back tears.

When we said goodbye, I sat there stunned, certain that what had just happened marked a seismic shift in our lives. We would never again be just girls, giggling in the middle of the night during a sleepover. We would never again drive our mopeds to the pool and eat Snickers bars and drink Cherry Cokes. We would never share another bus seat as we rode to an out-of-town football game to perform with the marching band.

Of course, I hadn’t really expected we would do those things again but there was something about one of us becoming a mother that made it official. Our childhood was over, and an entirely new kind of adventure was beginning.

Fast forward 18 years. I got another call from Jennifer this week. (Technically, it was a text message – the technologically advanced offspring of yesteryear’s phone call.) She asked if I could help her do some calligraphy on her daughter’s graduation invitations.

A renewed sense of shock came over me as I realized that the “I’m going to have a baby” phone call had evolved into news about her daughter’s high school graduation. Her baby has already grown up, just like we did. She graduation cap2can drive. She can vote. She can move away from home. Were our mothers as surprised by this as we are? And how is it possible that she’s an adult when we barely feel like one ourselves?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know childhood is a precious, fleeting thing. My own three kids have gone from snuggly babies to teens and tweens in what feels like a short commercial break.

As I worked on graduation envelopes, I glanced at the wallet-size photo of Jennifer’s daughter in her cap and gown, looking much like her mother looked in her senior portrait – minus the tragically high hair that plagued us in the early 90s. I hope she’s had the same amount of fun her mom and I had as kids. And I hope she’s blessed with the same kind of lasting friendship that can go all the way from fifth grade to grown kids. What a grand adventure.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.