When I was a young adult, I felt completely comfortable coming home to my parent’s place. It was the house where I’d grown up. One bedroom was “mine”. I knew where the dishes were kept, where the good Scotch waited, where the extra towels were kept.
Coming in the door was coming home. Just like I’d done about a million times before. Key in lock, door pushed open, “Hi, Ma!” as I came up the stairs into the kitchen.
But gradually, as the years went by, “home” became the apartment where Paul and I lived. It became the house we rented when our first child was born. Then the house we bought to raise all three of our children.
Visits to my parents house became visits.
I realized that my parents would plan special meals for our visits. They’d put on a tablecloth. I started to ask permission to have a glass of wine or a bowl of ice cream.
I was a guest, in my own home.
Weird, but cool. I felt like a real adult.
I never wondered how that felt to my folks, though.
Then my kids grew up. They moved away. They all have lives. My daughter lives only a half a mile away and brings her kids here every day for me to care for while she and her husband are working. So she still feels pretty comfortable here, and has no worries about opening the fridge for a snack.
But my sons live two hours away, and we only see each other every couple of months.
When they come home, I notice that they are happy to grab themselves a beer, or toss a load of laundry into the machine. They seem to feel like this is still more or less “home”.
But something bizarre has happened to me, the momma.
It’s scary and it’s weird. Me no likies.
Yesterday our son Matt and his fiancee were planning to come for dinner. We haven’t seen them for a bit, and I was looking forward to catching up. I did what any self respecting Italian Momma would do. I shopped, I baked, I roasted, I sauteed.
But I also cleaned the kitchen. I threw the trash and washed the can. I cleaned the bathroom and put out new soap. I adjusted the sofa pillows and swept the floor. I vacuumed the steps.
As I was washing the doggie nose prints off the living room window, I suddenly stopped, vinegar soaked rag in hand. “What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself. “Did I seriously just clean the toilet for the kid who I potty trained in this very room?”
I shook my head at my foolishness, gave myself a little smack, and went back to cleaning the windows.
Then I straightened up the pinecones on my shelf and changed the batteries in all the Halloween lights.
I don’t mean that romantic kind of love that makes you agree to watch endless basketball games just because the Celtics were wicked good at the time. That love makes you feel as if your soul is melting into another soul, and that you are now the owners of the first mutual love soul ever.
And I don’t mean the kind of love that you give to your dog, because he’s just so incredibly doggie. That love has no strings, no thoughts, no need to measure for reciprocity.
I mean the kind of love that you think will be less intense, but turns out to be enough to pull your heart right out of your soul.
I’m thinking about the love that parents feel for their children. The kind of love that makes us sit up at 2AM, gazing into the eyes of someone who can’t even focus on our faces yet, thinking that we would happily give our own lives to insure that this person would continue breathing.
It’s the love that makes parents buy the food that their children love. The love that makes us choose orange juice with no pulp for a full 25 years, even though we really like the pulpy juice ourselves.
I’m talking about the love that makes us put up paper ghosts and orange blinking lights in October, even though we are in our sixth decade of life.
Love is weird.
Love makes us happy to play in the dirt when our backs hurt. It makes us laugh at “Captain Underpants”, even though we’ve retired from teaching and don’t have to pretend any more.
I’m talking about the kind of love that makes us happy to deal with poopy diapers, and drooling babies, and dropped crumbs. It’s the love that makes us so incredibly happy to finally get to the weekend, when the kids will be at home with Mom and Dad for a couple of days. And it’s the love that makes us irritable on Sunday night, because we can’t wait to get the kids back here into our kitchen.
Love is weird.
Love makes us willing and eager to buy candy googly eyes so we can make cupcakes next week. It makes us happy to order a case of food coloring, thinking of baths and playdough and cookies to come.
It is the love that makes all of the aches and pain, all of the stress and worry, all of the whining and crying simply fade away with one big hug.
Love is weird.
I’m so so happy that I have a chance to feel that ridiculous sappiness every day.
I like the way Mark Twain described patriotism. He said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
Lately, the word ‘patriotism’ has been tossed around by both Democrats and Republicans as a way to paint themselves as the good guys and their opponents as the evildoers.
You know what I mean, right?
Trump claims that progressive Democrats “hate America”. He tells them that if they are so critical of our country, they should just leave. I don’t know about you, but I remember hearing similar sentiments from Republicans in the past, when the left was critical of various wars and regime building exercises. Feel free to leave if you don’t like it here with us!
We all know people who fly flags to show how patriotic they are. They wear red, white and blue shirts and sport “America First” hats.
And I don’t mean to point fingers at the Republicans alone, either. We have plenty of Democrats who are trying to seize the moral high ground. Maxine Waters demanded not long ago that Republicans must “prove their patriotism” in the age of Donald Trump.
So what is patriotism?
Is it blind loyalty to a piece of cloth? Or loyalty to a chunk of soil? Is it devotion and total acceptance of one politician, or one party, or one economic philosophy?
I say no.
I say this: Patriotism is the belief that my country is a place where people can live well and prosper. It is a determination to make that claim true.
So I will no longer register as either a D or an R. I won’t automatically support the person with the D or the R after their name on the ballot.
I will be a patriot by doing everything I can to make my tiny part of this huge world safer and kinder for as many people as possible.
My patriotism, from this day on, will be shown by listening to people with whom I disagree. It will be shown by donating to my local Community Action Committee. By donating towels and shampoo to the homeless shelter and volunteering at the hospital.
I’m a patriot because I believe that humans are the only part of the country that means anything. Humans need food and homes and clothes and jobs. Humans need education and health care. They need a sense of belonging and of a shared destiny.
Humans need to be able to raise their kids without fear. They need to be able to go through every day focused on the next meal and the upcoming holiday and the weather.
They need to be protected from the dangers of war, or xenophobia, or mass killings, of extreme poverty and sickness.
I’m a patriot when I greet the new cashier at my local grocery store, admire her bright red hijab and ask her what country she’s from. I’m a patriot when she and I share recipes for bone broth and wish each other a good weekend. I’m a patriot when I turn off the never-ending partisan blather about impeachment, corruption, lies, lawbreaking and who is less of a patriot than whom. When I turn on music and sing with my grandkids. I’m a patriot when I teach them how to make the Italian foods that I learned at my own Nana’s table and when we research new recipes together from countries we’ve never seen. I’m a patriot when I meet a Mom at the local park and learn that she came to Massachusetts from West Africa and we both hate the same ice-sleet storms that plague New England in late winter.
I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, “The American President.” The girlfriend of the President is upset with him because he doesn’t stand up to his opponent, who keeps bashing the people who do support him. She says, “How can you keep quiet? How do you have patience for people who claim they love America but clearly can’t stand Americans?”
I’d like both of our ruling parties to think about this quote. If you can’t stand half of us because we disagree with you, then you don’t “love America”. You are not a patriot.
WE are America. You either love us all, govern us all, protect us all, or you are clearly no patriot. And you are not fit for public office.
I’ve spent a lot of my adult life with little kids. I was blessed with three kids of my own, and now I am the daycare provider for my two grandchildren.
In between those lucky adventures, I’ve also been a teacher, a speech pathologist and a babysitter for a few extra kids.
I’ve been to dozens of professional development classes, countless meetings about child development and a ton of visits with friends and their kids.
In all that time, I’ve learned a lot.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the way we talk to our kids. I’ve been paying attention to what we adults say to our children in everyday interactions.
I’m not impressed, truthfully.
Let me put it this way. Let’s pretend that the words we say to our kids every day were said to us instead.
Pretend that you are about to head off for a day at work. You’ve showered, dressed, eaten breakfast, grabbed your work bag. You embrace your spouse for a kiss goodbye, and hear them say, “Now you be a good person today.”
Wouldn’t you think, “Wait a minute! Do you think that I’m NOT a good person?”
What if you were about to head off to a meeting, and you heard your boss say, “Be a good listener. Don’t give the presenter any trouble!”
You would be furious, I have no doubt. But you’d also probably feel pretty damn insecure. You’d ask yourself, “Why does my boss think I’m going to be a bad listener and a troublemaker?”
We do this to our kids all the time.
All. The. Time.
As parents drop kids off at daycare, school, music classes, swim class, they most often kiss the little one and then give a warning. “Be a good boy today!” or “You listen to your teacher!”
When they pick those children up after a day of playing with friends, most parents ask, “Were you a good girl today?”
We do this because we feel like it’s required. We feel like this is the right way to help our children become responsible adults.
But it isn’t.
Instead of giving our children the idea that we suspect them of bad behavior every day, why don’t we give them the message that we trust them and believe in them?
I think of my son-in-law, who brings his two toddlers to me every day. He never tells them to be good. Instead, he kisses them, tells them that he loves them, and says, “Have fun today!”
The message to those kids is this: I know that you’re a wonderful person. I know that you will be as kind and as thoughtful as any toddler. My wish for you is a day of fun and happiness.
It isn’t about obedience. It isn’t asking children to behave well in all settings.
It gives kids a happy, hopeful, self-affirming message.
So how about this, just as a suggestion.
As we drop our little ones off at daycare/preschool/kindergarten, why don’t we say something like this:
“Have a fun day, honey! I’m so proud of what a great listener you are! I can’t wait to hear about how you shared with your friends today!”
The way that we talk to our children shapes their views of themselves. It shapes their belief in our expectations. Our words truly do shape the people that our children will become.
I am reminded of my very last school field trip. I was one of three fifth grade teachers taking our students to Olde Sturbridge Village. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, I stood in the aisle at the front of the bus.
“Boys and girls,” I said, “I hope that you all have a wonderful time today. I wanted to tell you that I am so proud to be your teacher. You are a great group of kids, so kind and so respectful. I’m so lucky to have a class that I know will impress all of the adults here. Go and have fun!”
One of the Mom’s on the trip turned to me with wide eyes, and said, “Wow. Even I want to be good just to make you proud! That was genius!”
But it wasn’t.
It was common sense.
We all want to hear good things about ourselves. We want our spouse to tell us, “Have a great day, honey!” We want our boss to say, “I’m glad you’re the one going to this meeting.”
We believe what people tell us about ourselves, especially when we are only babies, taking our first tentative steps out into the wide world.
Let’s stop warning our kids and telling them that we don’t trust them. Let’s tell them that we trust them to be the wonderful people we know they can be.
At the time we thought it was just his hugely inflated ego speaking, but now it looks like he was right.
Watching the latest evidence of corruption, lawbreaking, lying and stonewalling from the White House it has become evident that there is nothing Trump could do to provoke a reaction strong enough to get him out of there.
It’s obvious that no one in the GOP has any intention of turning against “their guy.” And it is not because they have such respect for the man.
Lindsay Graham, one of the best known and most respected Republicans in the Senate, called Trump a “kook” before he was nominated in 2016. After abruptly leaving the House of Representatives, former Speaker Paul Ryan said this about Trump:
I told myself, I got to have a relationship with this guy to help him get his mind right. Because, I’m telling you, he didn’t know anything about government.
One after another, nearly all of the conservatives chosen to work in the Trump administration have either been fired or have walked away from the chaos in the White House.
But other than one or two minor actors in the GOP (Just Amash, Jeff Flake), no Republicans have stepped up to admit that Donald Trump is unfit for the highest office in the land.
Instead, they are choosing to circle the proverbial wagons and stick together to protect their party’s interests.
As infuriating as that behavior is, however, I find it more upsetting that it is taking the Democrats so long to take action against this President.
It seems glaringly obvious that a strong case could be made for the 25th Amendment. There is the strong evidence of a neurological disorder on display every time the President speaks. There are the hundreds of mental health professionals who are convinced that Trump shows a serious personality disorder that makes him a danger to the world.
And then there are the daily lies, the refusal to allow anyone in his circle to testify before Congress, the complete contempt for the rule of law.
From where most of us sit, there is plenty to work with if the Dems decide to proceed with impeachment.
So what is it that makes Speaker Pelosi so reluctant to take any action against Trump? What is it that has the Democratic leadership insisting that “we must have all the facts” before proceeding with an inquiry intended to elicit those very facts?
It sure isn’t a love of the Constitution, that much I know for sure.
In Article II, Section 4 of that famous founding document, the case for removing a President from office reads like this:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”.
There is nothing in these words to indicate that the decision to impeach should be based on the likelihood of getting a conviction. Nowhere in the Constitution does it suggest that the House of Representatives should initiate impeachment proceedings only if they are positive they’ll succeed in ousting the target of the process.
Nevertheless, that seems to be the thinking among the Democratic leadership.
“We can’t go ahead with impeachment,” the thinking goes, “because the Senate won’t vote to convict and remove the President. That would mean a failure for our party, and we might lose seats in the next election.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter how many high crimes and misdemeanors the President commits, we won’t hold him accountable because that would cause our party to lose votes.
The GOP is only interested in protecting the reputation of the party. They want to hold onto the Senate more than they want to save the republic from a crook (or a “kook”.)
The Dems are only interested in protecting their votes in the next election. They want to hold onto the House and flip some Senate seat more than they want to save the republic from a mentally ill, unstable, possibly demented narcissist.
To put it another way, it no longer matters how crazy, how criminal, how dangerous the actions of any future President may be.
As long as that President is a member of the same party that controls the Senate, they will be free to do anything they’d like to do without any worry.
Including, presumably, shooting someone on Fifth Avenue.
The Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves.
So before you go accusing me of being a super boring politics nerd, I have to tell you that I don’t watch C-SPAN all that often. I mean, sure. Sometimes I tune in to the morning show where the obviously sedated extremely calm host takes calls from both right and left as they discuss the topics of the day.
But I rarely watch actual Congressional hearings.
Today, however, my close friend told me that her daughter-in-law would be giving testimony, and would be on the live coverage. That sounded pretty exciting to me, so I tuned in right at 10AM to see her give her professional and well respected opinion on issues of national security.
I clicked on the set and was both surprised and nauseated to find myself listening to the brain melting drone of Mitch McConnell as he scolded the Democrats for not passing a spending bill.
Oh, the hypocrisy.
I switched over to C-SPAN2, where I was forced to endure a series of Congressmen moaning and gnashing their teeth over the terrible danger that vaping is posing to our youth. One after the other, they got up to declare (with surprisingly straight faces) that they will NOT stand by and simply DO NOTHING while the health and safety of our youth are at risk!
Each one sounded more sincere then the one before. If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought that this was group of national leaders who would do just about anything to stop a classroom full of six years old from being shredded into bits by a crazed gunman.
I kept flipping the channels back and forth, hoping to see my friend’s smart and articulate DIL.
Instead I was treated to a bunch of wrinkly old white men complaining and whining about the other wrinkly old white men who weren’t playing fair. “They won’t follow the rules!” was followed by “THEY won’t follow the rules!”
The language was most likely more sophisticated than what I am offering here, but this old retired elementary school teacher knew exactly what she was hearing.
Having mediated at least 1,000 recess and classroom disputes in my career, I know that what I was hearing was this:
“I want to play it MY way!”
“But I want to play MY way!”
“No, me!” “No, me!”
“You’re a doody pants!”
“He called me a doody pants! YOUR a doody poopy pants!!!!”
It was…..ridiculous. It was absurd. It was disgusting and demoralizing and it was validating.
It was proof positive that this country absolutely must move beyond the two entrenched, corporate parties.
Otherwise I fear that no one will ever have a chance to listen to the wisdom of those who actually run things every day. Instead we will be left with the choice of tuning out completely or subjecting ourselves to the worst juvenile behavior that any fifth grader could even imagine.
I can’t believe that it’s been eleven years since we last saw you. Eleven years since anyone has called me “little girl”. Eleven long years without your unshakeable sense of what is right and what is wrong.
I wonder, often, what you’d make of us now.
I know that you would love your four beautiful great grandchildren. I know that you watch over them. You see them play, see them grow, see them laugh. I know that. But what about the rest of us?
You are in a better, more forgiving place now. Do you see our mistakes and our sorrows, and do you understand the frailties that have lead us here? Do you forgive us for where we find ourselves?
Dad, we’re doing our best to take care of Mom, just the way you asked us to. I remember you telling me that you didn’t want to leave “my girl” and asking me to make sure that we looked after her as tenderly as you always did.
We’re trying, Dad. And I think we’re doing OK. She’s safe and she’s well loved. And we all talk about you all the damn time!
What must you be thinking about the situation in our country right now? You have no idea how much I wish that I could hear your voice, weighing in on our anger and our fear and our broken and damaged country.
You fought for this country, when you were barely more than a child. What must you be thinking now?
I can only imagine, knowing your strict moral compass. I can only imagine.
Dad, I miss you. You’re here every day with me, smiling at my grandkids. I feel you over my shoulder as I refinish Paul’s old desk. I remember your lessons about sanding with the grain, and using my tack cloth.
I feel you when I am celebrate with my sons as they get ready to marry the women that they love so much. You’d be so proud of them, Dad.
And there are such funny things, too, in my memory of you. I can’t look at dominoes without thinking about you playing with the kids. I can’t drink bad red wine without hearing your laugh. Every time I try to draw a straight line on the paper schedule that we make for Mom each month, I hear you telling me to mark the top and bottom.
“Measure twice, cut once,” Paul says, repeating one your many lessons. “All things in moderation,” I said to a local farmer yesterday as I bought his beef and lamb, knowing that we’re supposed to be eating less meat. “All things in moderation, including moderation.” The farmer laughed, and so did I. I felt you standing right beside me, laughing with us.
Your lessons surround us, and guide us, even now.
Tonight I turned on some music. (It’s all on the computer now, Dad. So cool and so convenient! You’d be amazed and fascinated to see it.)
I was making pickles and drying herbs as the music played in the background.
And suddenly I heard a song called “All in Your Name” by a beautiful young songwriter and singer named Heather Maloney. And I couldn’t stop crying.
I guess that’s OK, huh? It’s OK to still grieve for you.
You were our hub. You were the anchor. We miss you so very much, every day. Without you, this world is just little less honest. A little bit less sure.
When I started this blog, back in 2011, it was on the advice of my therapist. She was helping me to come to terms with my newly empty nest, and the loss of my mothering days.
My three kids had grown up, and had all moved out within two months of each other. I was a wreck. I mourned every day. I missed cooking for them. I fell apart in the grocery store just watching other mothers with their little ones.
The sight of a children’s book reduced me to sobs. In fact, I once had to run out of Toys R Us while trying to shop for a baby shower gift; I was in the book section and I stumbled upon “Love You Forever.”
I couldn’t hear certain songs without tears. I couldn’t make certain meals without tears.
It was ridiculous. But I couldn’t help it.
Gradually, I pulled myself together. I learned to enjoy the relative peace of the house and the time to reconnect with my husband. It got better. My kids grew into their lives but still touched base with us often.
And my daughter had babies.
That helped a whole big, fat boatload.
I became Nonni. I retired from teaching and began to spend my days, once again, rocking little ones, serving alphabet noodles, singing lullabies.
My equilibrium returned and all was well.
But, guess what?
Kids keep on growing. They keep on getting bigger and more independent. They change. They pull on her heartstrings at the most surprising times.
Last week I was putting little Johnny in for his nap. He loves books, and asked me to “read three books!” We were snuggled under the blanket, and my little two year old sweetie was following every word of each book.
I’m 63 years old. My kids are all adults and the grandkids have started to arrive.
Life is mostly fun and interesting and pretty enjoyable. Most of my body parts work the way they should and I can still take care of myself and my house. I don’t grow as many vegetables as I used to, but I can still weed a flower patch and grow a decent pot of herbs.
My life is on the downward slope of the proverbial hill, but I’m not yet rolling out of control.
So it’s all good.
Because I’m still healthy, happy and fully engaged with the world around me, I continue to work at staying healthy. I eat well, if too much. We live in a part of New England where we can easily buy local vegetables three seasons of the year. I love to can tomatoes and freeze batches of fresh veggies, so all year long we can eat fresh, local food.
We also eat fresh, local meats, eggs and chicken. No nasty chemicals in our meats.
I’m a good Italian cook. too. No preservatives or precooked foods on this lady’s table! No jars of sugar filled spaghetti sauce. No canned soup with all its sodium. Just fresh and home cooked food. Healthy as hell.
I exercise, too. Sort of.
I mean, I’m not sweating at the gym, but I have my garden, my dogs to walk, and my toddler grandkids who spend every weekday here with me. I run up and down the stairs dozens of times a day, chase tricycles, rake leaves while the kids jump in the piles, and cook and serve all day long.
You get it. I’m active.
I also take my medicine just as prescribed. One for blood pressure. One for fibromyalgia. A fish-oil pill for the old brain. Magnesium for the muscles. Papaya extract to increase my platelets.
In other words, as of this moment, I have every intention of staying healthy, staying active, squeezing all the good juice out of life.
I’m at an age where I think it makes sense to try to keep the old heart beating.
My mother is 89 years old. She still lives in the house where she and Dad raised six kids. She’s still funny, stubborn, determined and stoic.
But she is smaller than the huge personality that she used to be. She has closed in. She is thinner, shorter, more stooped and bent. She is the tiny version of her old fiery self.
Mom is less opinionated than she used to be, which is both a blessing and a curse. Life with her is easier than it once was, but I miss my strong-willed warrior woman Momma.
Mom taught me to cook. She taught me how to choose the right spices, how to make the best meatballs, how to be patient while a good stew simmered. Now she lives on frozen foods or the meals that her children bring her.
She can’t really cook anymore.
And my Mom no longer drives. She used to ride her bike around our town, to work at the local school, to Curves, where she worked out and made friends. Now she doesn’t even drive a car. She doesn’t shop, unless one of us takes her for an abbreviated trip to a local store.
Her world is shrinking around her shrinking frame.
Even our house has changed. It was once the hub of our social lives, filled with happy toddlers, kids on bikes, teen aged musicians, neighbors and relatives at every holiday. It was full of noise, delicious smells, loud and laughing voices.
Now the house is neat and quiet. It feels outdated and quaint.
It feels lonely.
One old lady and her old gray cat now live in a house that used to hold a family of 8 and our various dogs and cats.
It makes me sad.
So I’ve made a plan for my future. I think it is a good one. I think it makes sense.
Here is my brilliant plan
From now until my 80th birthday, I have every intention of continuing to take care of myself. I will eat my healthy veggies and monitor my wine intake. I’ll garden, and I’ll walk my dogs. I’ll stretch and use my hot tub to stay limber. There will be no better medical patient than me. Every doctor’s order will be like one of the Ten Commandments.
But on the morning of my 80th day on earth, I will change things up and take my future into my own hands.
I will give up cauliflower and broccoli. No more fish oil pills for me. No walking briskly, no frozen veggies, no organic soaps.
No. Instead, I will have a breakfast of many fresh donuts and as much esspresso as I can swill. Lunch will be martinis and wicked fattening cheese. Maybe some good olives. And bread dipped in tons of olive oil.
I’ll snack on more donuts and finish the day with a pitcher of more martinis. Vodka martinis. Dirty, lemon, pomegranate, chocolate for dessert.
I will lie on my couch all day with donuts on the table, a bag of chips at my feet and a martini in one hand.
If all goes as planned, I will not have to slowly diminish and leave my house sad and lonely. I will not watch myself slowly shrinking and losing everything that has made me myself.
Instead, I will quickly succumb, leaving my children and grandchildren with a fabulous story to tell about me. And I’ll cross that famous rainbow bridge and find myself free of all pain and grief, and ready for the next step.
Let me introduce myself, if you haven’t read my work before now..
I am a retired speech/language pathologist. For more than two decades, I spent every workday diagnosing and treating language disorders. I have helped people with a wide variety of communication deficits. I was very good at my job.
That’s why, in spite of the fact that I’ve been out of the field for several years, I am completely confident when I write that Donald Trump is exhibiting a serious language disorder.
Let me explain.
A deficit in expressing and/or understanding language is called aphasia.The term is most often used in diagnosing people who were not born with the disorder, but who acquire it later in life. Aphasia can be caused by a head injury, a stroke or as a part of a more significant cognitive decline in older adults.
One aspect of aphasia impacts a person’s expressive language. This is the kind of language disorder that is more obvious to those who interact with the affected patient. The person struggles to say what they mean. They may have difficulties in expressing ideas logically and specifically They might be seen to be searching for the right word as they speak. Many aphasic people develop an overreliance on empty words and phrases. I have known patients who included a favorite phrase or two into nearly every sentence spoken, as the rote language makes it easier to get out a full thought.
Some aphasic people make up words when they can’t find the one they need. The new word might or might not sound similar to the one that is missing.
People with expressive aphasia sometimes substitute one word or phrase for a similar one (ie, saying “chicken” when they mean “duck” or saying, “off the book” instead of “off the hook.”) Their conversations may seem rambling, with rapid jumps from one topic to another without any explanation. A story can go off on any number of tangents, leaving the listener confused.
Many people with what we call “fluent aphasia” can string together a long series of words that seem to make sense until you realize that there isn’t much content there. There are lots of pronouns and adjectives, but not enough nouns to make the meaning clear.
Aphasia can impact receptive language, or comprehension, as well. Aphasic people may struggle to follow complex conversations. They often misunderstand directions or fail to grasp the meaning of a question they’ve been asked. They find it confusing when more than one person is speaking at a time, or when the topic shifts in mid-conversation.
Some people with aphasia have problems with reading and writing. They may struggle to read anything other than the simplest of texts. Their writing can contain mistakes in syntax, word order or spelling that weren’t seen in the past.
Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly should.
The President of the United States is showing every one of these symptoms.
“Mr. President, are you demanding that the fed chairman lower interest rates?”
“No, I don’t demand it but if he used his head he’d lower ’em. In Germany, they have a zero interest rate and we do compete. Much stronger than Germany but we do compete with Germany. In Germany, they have a zero interest rate. And when they borrow money, when you look at what happens, look at what’s going on over there. They borrow money, they actually get paid to borrow money. And we have to compete with that. So, ah, if you look at what’s happening around the world, Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve have totally missed the call, I was right and just about everybody admits that. I was right. He did quantitative tightening, he shouldn’t have done that. He raised interest rates too fast, too furious. And we have a normalized rate, I, we call it that. And now we have to go the other direction. We’ll see if he does that. If he does it, you’ll see a rocket ship, you’ll see….. And if he doesn’t, we have a very strong economy.”
“But we could have. We could be, we could be in a place that this nation was seldom at if we had interest rates cut by the federal reserve. The Federal Reserve has let us down. They missed the call. They raised it too fast and they raised it too high and they did quantitative tightening and they shouldn’t have done the tightening and they shouldn’t have raised them to the extent that they did. We could have had some raising but nothing like what they did.”
“Mr. President, what happened to your strong appetite for background checks?”
“Oh, I have an appetite for background checks, we’re gonnna be doing background checks. We’re working with Democrats, we’re working with Republicans. We already have very strong background checks but we’re gonna be filling in some of the loopholes, as we call them at the border, and speaking about at the border, it would be really nice if the Democrats would indeed fix the loopholes because it would be really nice. But despite that, I want to thank Mexico. They have 26,000 soldiers at our border and they’re really stopping people from coming in.”
“But what does that have to do with background checks and guns?”
“So what happens is….with background checks….we’re dealing with Republicans, we’re dealing with Democrats, we’re dealing with the NRA, we’re dealing with gun owners, we’re dealing with everybody. And I think we’re gonna have something hopefully that’s meaningful.”
Note the repetition of phrases in this small sample. “We’re dealing with” and “we’re working with” were used over and over, with no description or clarification. Does he mean that he is meeting with those groups, or that he is making deals with them or something else? My impression is the President relies heavily on memorized phrases, which are easy to pull out and use.
Watch any of Trump’s unscripted remarks and try to count how many times he says, “We’ll see what happens.”
Note the word “raising” in the phrase “We could have had some raising.” The meaning is clear, but the word choice is troubling to this language specialist. We would expect the President of the US to say, “We could have had an increase.”
I’m sure you also noticed the rapid and inexplicable jump from the topic of background checks to that of the Mexican army at the border. It’s as if the word “loopholes” triggered a thought of the border crisis for some reason and that thought let made Trump jump completely off the track of the question.
Look at the discussion of Germany. Trump says,
“In Germany, they have a zero interest rate and we do compete. Much stronger than Germany but we do compete with Germany.”
What’s much stronger than Germany? We can make a guess that he’s referring to our economy, but the language of the sentence is clearly abnormal. In English, we don’t use a comparative like “much stronger” without including the referent.
Then there is the repeated phrase “missed the call”. We have a few idioms that are close to this one (“missed the boat” or “missed the mark” come to mind.) But we don’t say “missed the call” unless we mean a phone call. Or we’re referring to a sports referee.
Do you recall when the President recently met with religious refugees in the Oval Office? The following exchange happened between Trump and a young Yazidi woman.
“All this happened to me. They killed my Mum, my six brothers, they left behind them… “
“Where are they now?”
“They killed them.”
She told him that her family had been killed. He asked “Where are they now?”
He did not have the slightest understanding of what she’d said.
We saw the same lack of comprehension this week when Trump was asked about having second thoughts on his trade war with China.
“Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about escalating the trade war with China?”
“Yeah. Sure. Why not? Might as well, might as well.”
Once again, he completely failed to understand the question. A question which was then repeated by a different journalist, to which he replied,
“I have second thoughts about everything.”
Did he even understand the meaning of “second thoughts”? I am not at all sure.
Reading and Writing
Donald Trump is well known for his aversion to the written word.
When Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, spoke about his time at the White House, he said that Trump didn’t like to read. Tillerson was told that the President would not be reading the usual briefing notebook each morning, but instead would only accept bullet points or charts.
Mr. Trump himself has stated that he doesn’t like to read. In an interview with Axios shortly after his inauguration, Trump said that he doesn’t like to read, preferring bullet points to full essays.
“I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”
Although he is the author of several books, we know that each had a ghostwriter. Trump claims to have attended the best of schools, but has never let his school records be made public.
I say all of this because it brings up the diagnostic question of whether or not the man has always struggled with reading and writing, or whether this is a new phenomenon.
Whether or not that disorder is progressive is difficult to say but when I analyze his conversations from years ago, I believe that it is. His past interviews were far more coherent and much more linguistically sophisticated than what we hear now.
Whether or not the language disorder is developing as part of some type of dementia is up to a neurologist to diagnose.
I am not qualified to say whether or not Donald Trump has a personality disorder or a mental illness. But I am qualified to say that when I listen to him speak, I am increasingly convinced that he has significant aphasia.
What I know is this. Something is most assuredly amiss in the brain of the President of the United States. And he is the one with the nuclear codes.