Words Mean Things

Another week means another glorious trip to the grocery store for this family.  I stacked my kids into the green racing cart (once they discovered it, the regular old blue one wouldn’t do.  The babies need the freedom of being behind the wheel, apparently.), and took off for the deli to order some sandwich meat.

Innocent enough.

And again, this trip is one I felt went rather well.  And again, there were some people who wouldn’t have agreed with me.

You see, my children were in a fabulous mood.  They were laughing, and playing, and singing, too.  When my babies sing, they usually crescendo into a last toneless note shouted for a good 10 or 20 seconds.  Nearing the end of their display of musical prowess, I happened to look about only to see two deli workers staring disgustedly at me and the kids.  Oh.

“Just wait 10 years,” I said to the boy.  “You’ll probably get your fill of this.”

He laughed and said, “I surely hope not.”

“Well,” I joked, “I do tell everyone, if they don’t have kids yet, don’t have them.”  (Because if you can’t joke about the existence of your kids to strangers while they’re right there in front of you, what kind of a parent are you?)

The woman standing next to him took this opportunity to wipe the look of horror off of her face and pipe up, conversationally.

“This is why I have dogs,” she said.

Nothing wrong with that statement.  That’s something I often hear when we’re out and about.  She should have quit while she was ahead.  But, instead, she continued.

“I can cage a dog whenever I want.”

I smiled wanely and nodded.  I, myself, am not a big fan of caging, but I realize people do it and for good reason.

“And I can give it an electric shock when it barks too much.”

Thank goodness my roast beef was ready because I had no idea how I would respond to that one, nor did I want to hear any other things she did to her dogs.  Even the man cutting my meat was looking at her in surprise at this point.

Now, I know people use electric fences and such to keep their dogs from running out into the street, and maybe she was exagerrating for effect, but there are just some things you don’t say.  Especially to strangers.  Things like, “I give my dogs electric shocks when they do things that displease me, and I keep them in cages for the hahas.”

Did the woman mean that?  I suspect not.  She most likely meant that she can cage them when she leaves the house and that she keeps them on an electric fence so they don’t run away.  But that’s not what she said.

And it got me thinking about my own joke to the young man.  By telling him not to have kids in a joking manner, I didn’t explicitly say I didn’t like them.  I didn’t mean that I didn’t like them.  But at 2.5 they are beginning to understand so much.  How long until they understand the meaning of my joke as I understood the meaning of the other woman’s joke?

So, I guess I will work on taking my own advice.  Words mean things.  Even as adults we sometimes forget the weight our words carry, and we think we can hide behind joking.  But it is not the listener’s responsibility to understand or excuse us.  It is our responsibility not to say things we don’t want misconstrued.

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About parentwin

Parent of twins, blogger, writer and journalist. I write things. Sometimes people even read them.
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