Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Latin Lesson, or Why Moms Always Win

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Latin Lesson, or Why Moms Always Win

Article excerpt

My mother always said I should take Latin. And so she made it her personal mission to convert me. Sometimes I had my Latin prod served with mashed potatoes at dinner, and sometimes straight up in the car (the perfect place, she thought, to trap a teenager).

But adolescent autonomy is a tricky business. The more she pushed, the more I dug in my heels. We danced this little duet for my four years of high school, one of us giving up when the other left for college.

I don't know why I always said no, except, of course, that she was the one asking. But my triumphant battles in favor of French, the language I professed to love even when I stumbled over the subjunctive, were eventually to haunt me.

"Latin is so practical," Mom always insisted over my snorts of derision. "It is the backbone of so many languages."

I had to admit - but only to myself - that she had a point. And casting an anxious eye at my peers, who had already worked themselves into a frenzy over the SATs, I couldn't help noticing that the National Merit Finalists usually had one thing in common: my mother's pet language. So, momentarily flummoxed by her calm rationale, I'd dust off my winning refrain and bring the argument to a close: "But can you speak it?"

It is to her credit, more than 20 years later, that she has never mentioned this chapter in our lives. You see, I am now married to a Latin teacher. The language I once proclaimed "dead" puts food on our table, clothes on our backs, and is busy insinuating itself into the vocabulary and lives of my two young daughters.

Clearly, Mom won.

Life in Latin has its moments of hilarity, even for a Francophone like me. We are probably the only vegetable gardeners in the world whose garden entrance proclaims Vivamus atque holeremus ("Let us live and grow vegetables").

When the neighbors mischievously accuse me of dressing up subversive sayings in the language of the Caesars, I assure them that it is just a pun on a famous line of Catullus, Vivamus atque amemus ("Let us live and let us love"). …

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