sheila callahamFrom the Series: Life on Dog Hill

It’s been a wonderful summer filled with a wedding, an engagement, travel, and extended family time. But as August comes barreling to its end, I’m thinking about back to school for our 13-year-old son, Ryan.

As we headed into a local sports store to buy cleats for the new football season, he rattled off about a dozen other things he “needed” in preparation. When I suggested a moratorium on his spending, he got excited.

“Do you even know what that word means?” I asked.

“It means spend more, right?” he replied, smiling brightly.

“Hardly. In this case, I’m suggesting we temporarily suspend your spending.”

Ryan argued my misuse of the word. “Mom! Listen to the word… moratorium: mor as in spend more. Atorium as in auditorium. Spend big.”

He did have a point. Unfortunately, it didn’t support the true root of the word.

“Good try, dear,” I began, “but you should have stayed in first year Latin since that’s where this word originates. Moratorius (“delaying”), moror (“I delay”), and mora (“delay”).”

Ryan was not amused. His first semester of Latin last year was a sore topic, so he stretched his long legs and outpaced me to the back of the store to look for his cleats.

To be fair, I’m sure I didn’t know the meaning of the word moratorium at 13. In fact, I’m certain that I first came to understand and use it in college when I was studying American government.

The Hoover Moratorium was issued by U.S. President Herbert Hoover on June 20, 1931, to put a one-year moratorium on payments of World War I and other war debt. The 15 October and 15 November 1969 moratoriums called for general strikes in an effort to bring the Vietnam war to an end. The day before the 15 November Moratorium Day, 40,000 people gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue, parading single file toward the White House, each carrying a placard naming a dead American soldier. By the following day, half a million demonstrators had gathered across from the White House in protest.

I frequently use words that I think will stretch my son’s vocabulary. I’m not so sure he appreciates it now, but someday he will. I imagine that the first time he uses the word successfully to convey a temporary suspension of activity, he’ll smile and remember the time when he tried to tell me it meant more… a LOT more.

Want to expand your middle schooler’s vocabulary? Here are a few sly tips to help your early teen learn to use words you deem valuable, without causing them to stomp off in frustration.

  1. Provide a short vocabulary list to family members living in the house. Insist they use each of the words every day when speaking to said middle schooler. Offer monetary incentives such as a $30 gas card for every week they use all of the words in a direct conversation with the middle schooler of note. If that doesn’t work, refuse to cook or do laundry.
  2. Tell your middle schooler that you are struggling to meet a deadline for your first article to appear in a major media outlet. Tell him that getting into to this venue will assure your forthcoming fame and fortune (emphasize fortune). Ask him to help you find another word that means suspend temporarily.
  3. Buy your own gaming console, hide it in your closet, and when your middle schooler thinks you are retiring for the evening, sign on to his favorite online game and join his team (don’t forget to disguise your voice). “Yo, Dude, like I think we need a moratorium on like killing people or something. You know, SUSPEND killing for a while and just race, man!”

You can thank me for this great advice (or make your recommendations) in my comment box below. As for me, I’m headed to the closet to sign onto Grand Theft Auto….

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