Lately, Alexander has been obsessing over Mad Libs. In fact, he threw one of his rare, though powerful, pouty, foot-stomping, “Life isn’t fair!” tantrums when I came home baring surprise presents for both kids last week: a Mad Libs book for Sophia and an age-inappropriate Icky/Bizarro Body Book (i.e., up close and personal photos of how Oreos are transformed by the digestive track into poop). I thought that Alexander, at age 5, would prefer the poop over the more ponderous grammatical concepts of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Apparently not.I was the Unfair Momma.
But Sophia being Sophia, the daughter who delightedly stirs octopus brains on the beaches of Greece with her forefinger in pre-Nobel for Science, happily traded books. I spent the next several hours and days explaining and re-explaining the differences between nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
“A noun is a thing, like dog or cat or, well, poop. A verb is a thing you do, like run or walk,” I said.Alexander nodded, “Or poop. You can poop, too.”
Ahh, a potential linguist in the making. Already he understands the way language can be manipulated.“And an adjective describes something. Like red or slow or soft or tired,” I said. Tired. Yes, I know that only too well these days.
Again, he nodded. “Brown! Like brown poop!” So, not interested in reading about it, but certainly fascinated in its literary composition.Alexander’s Mad Libs have thankfully drifted away from excrement and veered towards T-Rex territory, and since Halloween is fast approaching, ghosts, pirates, zombies and blood are often repeated nouns; run, scare, and hide are the verbs; while red, bloody, scary, and dark are the go-to adjectives.
(Small digression: we went to one of those Haunted Houses last weekend, this one underground, and really meant for adults as most of the tableaus featured fairly sadistic CSI/Dexter type scenes. I confess, I was scared, but held it together since I was holding Alexander’s hand. For the first few rooms, he gripped my hand, his voice quavered, and he kept saying he was scared. All of a sudden, though, he decided he was some sort of brave Superhero, and he ran up to each awful incarnation—the bloody Freddy Kreuger, the Chainsaw-wielding Madman, the creepy, man-spider crawling around on all-fours—and shouted in their faces, “You don’t scare me! You don’t scare me!” And the thing was, he meant it.)So today, Sophia and Alexander proposed Mad Libbing Momma. I was initially hesitant. What sort of nouns, verbs, and adjectives in reference to me would they come up with?
Noun: Okay, maybe an easy given—Momma.Verb: Leaves. Disappears. Yells. Screams. Cries.
Adjective: Sad. Mad. Scary. Crazy.But I gave Sophia a reprieve from studying for her Social Studies test (Regions and Weather—to be honest, a pretty hard test with a lot of vocabulary and information—not sure I could memorize it all unless I was hoping to get a job as a meteorologist for CNN) and this is the result.
Sophia’s Mad Momma Lib:Mom:
Roses are red, CHIPMUNKS are blue. She PLAYS like a CAT. Mom can be fun, and loves GREECE. She wears clothes that are LIGHT BLUE every day.Alexander’s Mad Momma Lib:
Mom:Roses are red, T-REXS are blue. She HOPS like a SEA SERPENT. Mom can be fun, and loves DISNEY LAND. She wears clothes that are ORANGE every day.
And my own self-referential Mad Momma Lib:Roses are red, BIRDS are blue. She TWIRLS like a TREE. Mom can be fun, and loves GREECE. She wears clothes that are PURPLE every day.
Nothing here suggests crazy. Nothing here mentions my long absences, the hospitalizations, the manic flights of desperation, the disappearance into the dark cellar of depression over and over. They knew, and I knew, in advance the theme of this Mad Lib was me—and yet—the words that came to mind, were words of strength, of agility of movement, landscapes of light and innocent play.Okay, a few roaring, coiling monsters, but my son draws those monsters and hangs them on his wall. “You don’t scare me!” I have to remember that he runs up to those monsters, seeks them out. They don’t scare him. He longs for the rollercoaster.
And Sophia? The curled up, serene purring cat. For instance, last night, we had what might be a typical pre-teen blow-up fight, initially mishandled by both of us, but then, we resolved it. For most of the night, though, I carried her words around inside me: “I’m angry at Momma! She yelled at me. I’m so angry at her!” Remembering the wounds I carried inside my own 9 year old self when I believed I was unfairly yelled at by my own mother. But later that night, after we apologized to each other, after we hugged and made up, I overheard her telling—no, telling isn’t a strong enough word—insisting that she was going to sleep next to me that night. “It’s my night to sleep next to Momma. She’s mine tonight.”Mad Libs. Mad Love. Momma Love.