Our family has lots of code words. Many of them began with things the boys said incorrectly when they were young and we just adopted them as our personal alternatives to the correct phrases. Others grew out of a desire to be discrete. When our boys needed to use the bathroom they often said they were going to “play Yahtzee” because we have a hand-held Yahtzee game in the bathroom. I’m not sure if they ever requested permission from their teachers to “go play Yahtzee” when they were at school, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It’s a hard habit to break. We probably sound pretty weird to the rest of the world.
Since Karen grew up in a missionary family in South America, it was common for Spanish words to filter their way into our lives. “Please” and “Thank you very much” were replaced by “por favor” and “muchas gracias”. It was educational for the boys and fun for all of us. Tucker had a habit of taking the game further by substituting similar sounding words for the Spanish ones we used. At one point he came up with “Grazi Mogadishu” as his alternative for “muchas gracias”. We used it for years. Language can be enormously entertaining.
Tuck also came up with a generic expression that he applied to most any situation. Just like military folks give different meanings to the expression “Hooah!” by using various intonations, Tucker found that he could use the word “Eeeee!” to express anything from great joy to great disappointment. It was perfect for filling uncomfortable lulls in a conversation. It could be used as punctuation. It served equally well as an exclamation of triumph or an expression of sadness. When his brothers were getting in trouble it was a great way to comment without getting into trouble himself. It could be both a greeting and a sign off, and even a substitute for saying “I Love You!” when that was too embarrassing to actually say out loud. We still use it regularly.
Somewhere along the line, the boys noticed that Karen kept saying “eeeee” when she was speaking Spanish. It turns out that what sounds like “eeeee” is actually the Spanish word for “and,” which is spelled using the letter “Y”. Armed with that knowledge, we went searching through the American Sign Language dictionary and found the hand sign for the letter “Y”. It looks a lot like the “hang loose” sign that surfers use.
Just like that we had a secret family hand sign for saying “Eeeee!”, and by extension a way to discretely say “I Love You”. This was enormously useful as the boys got older and became embarrassed by the fact that they even HAD parents (at least in front of their friends). While Karen and I consider it among our highest privileges as parents to embarrass our kids as much as possible (kidding) (sort of), having the “Eeeee” sign available made it easy for us to express our love in public without humiliating them too badly.
When we were in the stands getting ready to watch one of the boys play football we’d often see them scanning the crowd to find where we were sitting. When they spotted us, we would just discretely raise the “eeeee” sign to chest level. After a moment, they would casually form the sign down next to their leg or pretend to scratch their chin with it. None of their teammates ever knew what was really going on.
But we did.
originally published 10/6/11| next post He Bear, She Bear