Last year, when I found out that my daughter, Clementine, had a student teacher from Turkey in her class, I was thrilled. Not only would that give her the chance to learn a little bit about other cultures—world peace here we come—but, also (and most importantly) it would give her the chance to learn not to mess with her mother.
Here’s my reasoning: since I have a friend who spent several years teaching in Turkey I was pretty sure that I could learn to say something completely embarrassing in Turkish by the end of the year. (And by embarrassing I mean embarrassing to Clementine; my ability to embarrass my own self is not hampered by little things like linguistic differences.)
He was reluctant at first (“Are you sure you want to say that to someone you don’t know?”), but finally, after much encouragement—and haranguing—I had my Turkish phrase:
Göt chok sijack. Or, in English, “You have a nice ass.”
I didn’t plan on actually using it, you understand: it was just a threat. With the above embarrassing phrase in hand (or rather, mouth), all I had to do for the rest of the year was threaten to use it any time Clementine gave me grief, and voilá, she would rein it in. “That’s fine,” I’d say. “I understand that you don’t want to (clean your room, put away the dishes, stop strangling your brother). You do understand, however, that the next time I go to school I’ll be saying ‘göt chok sijack’ to Mr. Sul, right?”
As far as threats go, it was very effective—her behavior improved significantly over the course of that semester. Right up until the last day of school, when Clementine, obviously having prepared for this all year long, walked up to Mr. Sul and said, “My mom has something she wants to tell you.”
Now I know that, as the older and wiser one, I could have said something like “Thank you for teaching my dreadful child;” “Have a nice summer;” or even “How are you?” But at that moment, confronted with having to say something, my mind drew a blank, and all I was able to stammer out was—you guessed it—“göt chok sijack.”
Of course the joke was on Clementine, because far from being offended Mr. Sul and I ended up laughing about the whole thing; he even introduced me to his American born wife, who supplemented my meagre Turkish with another phrase, “Amana koiyum,” which means, loosely, “I am having an inappropriate relationship with your mother.”
Which, finally, brings me to the real the topic of this column. Your mother. Or rather, yo’ mama.
You remember yo’ mama jokes, don’t you? “Yo’ mama is so fat she has her own zip code.” “Yo’ mama is so ugly that when you was born, the doctor slapped her.” And so on. Well, here’s the thing: they’re back. Or maybe they never left. Maybe, like athlete’s foot fungus, they just hang around middle school locker rooms, waiting for new hosts. And if that’s true, then they’ve found their hosts in this year’s crop of middle schoolers.
“Yo’ mama is so ugly she’s . . .really ugly,” says Clementine’s best friend, to which she replies, “Oh yeah? Well yo’ mama is so ugly that she’s . . . even uglier.” (Okay, they haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, but they’re trying.)
I know that, as a mama (and as someone whose emotional maturity has moved beyond single digits), I should be appalled at these jokes, but somehow I just can’t.
Because, as I learned from Mr. Sul, (and his wife), nothing transcends culture like an inappropriate reference to someone’s ass—or their mother.
It may not quite be the road to world peace, but it’s a beginning.