Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's All Well and Good

"Teach your children well... feed them on your dreams." Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

I have many annoying traits. Plentiful. Too many to name, really. But the most annoying? That's easy. I'll be the first one to admit it. It's a no-brainer.

I have a habit - I'm not necessarily going to call it a bad habit - of correcting your grammar. To your face. Right after you say something wrong - check that - incorrectly. Improper use of the language is bone chilling to me. It's hair raising. Fingernails on the blackboard. I just can't tolerate it. I have made it my life's mission to eradicate the misuse of the word "ironic," one coincidence at a time.

Growing up in a house, a family, a community full of gindaloons who talk like comic book mobsters, it was time to take a stand. It all started in high school.

Blame Donna Mulvaney. It's all her fault. Donna Mulvaney. Most know her as Mrs. Mulvaney. She was my English teacher my senior year in high school. She made it her mission to correct our syntax, our grammar, our usage every time we opened our mouths. She was relentless. Her trademark was her almost instantaneous editing of our use of the word "good," when we should have been using the word "well." And you know what? She was absolutely right.

"How are you doing today?," she would ask. "Good," came the customary unenthusiastic teenage response. "No... you're doing well," she would reply. You're right, Mrs. Mulvaney, I am doing well. And now, thanks to you, so is my daughter...

I take great pains to speak properly to my daughter. All 2 1/2 years of her. I'm happy to report it's paying off. There's nothing quite as poetic as a little girl her age saying, "I'm not feeling very well, daddy." Every "slowly," "quickly," and "only" is a brief and beautiful symphony playing in our home. Music to my ears.

But it's all Mrs. Mulvaney's fault. She is why I change the lyrics to songs that I sing to Penelope to make them grammatically correct. She's why "You've Got a Friend" is now titled "You Have a Friend" and why I sing "Now isn't it good to know that you have a friend" instead of "Now ain't it good to know that you've got a friend."

She is why I stood with the band in front of my neighbors at our block party - after consuming six beers for courage - this past weekend and sang "Thunder Road," while replacing all of Bruce Springsteen's "ain'ts" and "gots" with "isn'ts" and "haves" and not feeling at all like I was committing some kind of sacrilege.

I know. I'm a little insane about it.

As you can imagine, my family is very uncooperative with my effort. I think they've actually grown worse at mastering the English language as they've grown older. While I love them to no end, holding a conversation with these people is Noah Webster's worse nightmare... what with the "goods" when there should be "wells" and the "gonnas" and the "gots" and the "ain'ts" and the double negatives and the pluralization of the pronoun "you." I don't think they've ever used an adverb, or at the very least used one right - check that - correctly. It's also quite possible that they're doing it deliberately just to aggravate me.

They need Donna Mulvaney. They need to stay after class with Donna Mulvaney. Donna Mulvaney would definitely have her work cut out for her.

I'd like to thank Mrs. Mulvaney. She was strict, but fair. She was no-nonsense, yet had a sweet sense of humor. And she always gave more of her time and effort than was required of her.

Kind of like all parents should do, like all teachers should do, like all role models should do. Mrs. Mulvaney recognized that she had a captive audience. That she had an opportunity to shape young minds, to change young minds, to renavigate their course. She seized that opportunity. And she was successful. At least with me.

Or, you could say, she created a monster.

She's still teaching down at good ole' M.D.H.S. in Toms River. I tracked her down and e-mailed her after I initially wrote this post, to thank her. To let her know how well I'm doing, how well my daughter is doing. I am happy to say that Mrs. Mulvaney is also doing well, and is still a stickler for language.

Good for her. Good for us. And very good for Penelope.

1 comment:

  1. Aggravate you...on purpose?...Well maybe, sometimes ;)
    Beat up the English language? Hardly never intentional. But leave the lyrics to the artists.
    And C...nothing is coincidence!
    I,m just happy to share my wealth of knowledge with my beautiful niece.


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