by jexmas on February 19, 2012

“Jane, from now on, I want you to call me Mutte.”

“Why,… Mutte?” I asked. My mother had decided to learn German and had enrolled in a local language school. She had not yet been to the first class, but had the book and was learning to say her first words in another language.

“Because that’s what German children call their mums,” she said. “It means ‘Mummy’ in German.” I had never called her “Mummy” in English and was amused she wanted to be called “Mummy” at all. I agreed to call her “Mutte.” In her rather overly-optimistic assessment of her wished-for capacities, she claimed she would speak German exclusively by the time she had finished the class and, if I wanted to talk to her when she was fluent, I would have to learn German, too.

I did not ask her why she wanted to learn German, but my sister was also taking German in high school at that time. My mother did not like to be left behind and was acutely aware of not knowing things her children were learning. She would not ask my sister to help her, but charted her own course.

Over the next few weeks, she practiced what she was learning with me and I learned some basic phrases from her. When I came home from school, she would greet me at the door.

Guten tag, Jane.”

Guten tag, Mutte.”

Gesturing towards a stool in the kitchen, she said, “Bitte nehmen Sie Platz.”

Danke, Mutte,” I would say obediently as I sat down.

She would pretend to offer me a pack of cigarettes and ask, “Rauchen Sie?” I would reply, “Nein danke, ich rauche nicht,” even though, by then, I was smoking like a chimney.

Once she realized she could actually learn to speak German, she lost interest very quickly. I stopped calling her Mutte and she went back to being Mum again. She just needed to know she could do it if she wanted to. Since those few phrases comprise the extent of my German vocabulary, I know her passion did not last very long. And neither did mine. Like a zephyr of interest in something wafting by on the wind, it simply floated out the window never to be heard from again. Nie.

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