‘Uh-oh’: Perfect Timing in More Ways Than One

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by Helen Baldwin |

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I had Mrs. Ruby Miner for spelling in the seventh grade. Besides spelling words, we defined, pronounced, and wrote them neatly. Stepping into Room 217 usually brought on a slight spell of jitters, even for this decent speller. I can only imagine the palpitations had I not been an attentive student.

Over 50 years later, I can still visualize Mrs. Miner sashaying back and forth across the front of the room. She was a stylish, attractive, matronly figure. She favored relatively practical heels and belted dresses with skirts perfect for twirling, as my granddaughter, Clara, loves to do. Mrs. Miner’s obituary mentions her “quick, infectious laugh and renowned sense of humor.” What I remember most, however, is her taking both spelling and the English language in general seriously. She meant business.

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Mrs. Miner liked me. Being a conscientious student was my nature, but with teacher parents (elementary school and private piano), I didn’t dare intentionally cause even the slightest disruption for teachers. I was no fool.

My English teachers in junior high (Mrs. Melton) and high school (Ms. Eyrich) were sticklers for grammar, punctuation, spelling, oral presentations, and whatever else was required in the Age of Dinosaurs. Years ago, when I asked our children, Matthew and Katie, if they’d ever diagrammed sentences, their blank stares provided the answer.

My language arts teachers are surely rolling their eyes or themselves in their graves at the spelling and language shortcuts and substitutions — initialisms, acronyms, and emojis — of the younger generations, thumbs affixed to mobile devices instead of pens. And grammar? I’ve been instructed on more than one occasion that I don’t need a period in a text message when there’s only one sentence (is that even what they’re called now?). No period? Good grief.

It’s probably safe to say that spelling is no longer offered in school. Cursive is also suspect.

Thankfully, speaking and writing in complete sentences is not a totally lost art. Yet.


You might be wondering where this is going.

Between exposure to proper language instruction and the opportunity to toss words around in a book, this column, our personal businesses’ websites, newsletters, and more, I enjoy working with words. However, my favorite language treasures come not from formal instruction, but from the unbridled mouths of babes — ours, in particular.

My mother is the only other one in the family whose conversations are sprinkled with a few fond memories from the early days of our children’s expanding vocabulary. Lingering favorites include “marnow” (tomorrow), “bikkit” (biscuit), and “dirl” (girl). Our two grandkiddos, Clara and James, have continued the trend effortlessly: “pikker” (picture), “hank you” (thank you), “koihower” (cauliflower), “hoawie gakamoawie” (holy guacamole), “iptick” (ChapStick/lipstick), and on and on.

Ahhh, the words of a child.

Several years ago, I decided to compile for my husband, Randy, a collection of funny things our children said when they were younger. I dug up a list I’d started as soon as they were intelligible enough for me to grasp what they were saying. I couldn’t jot down everything our mini comics said or did over the years, but I gave it my best shot. One piece of advice for new parents: Write the funny stuff down!

Going over my notes, I laughed harder than I’d ever laughed before. In fact, I began laughing so hysterically, I shut the door, rousing Randy’s curiosity as to what the heck I was doing and perhaps what else was in my water.

I recently stumbled upon the list and once again couldn’t stop howling at what had come out of Matthew and Katie’s mouths. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and so is the release of the “hilarity tears” that go with it.


As Randy and I attempted to process our baby Jeffrey’s SMA diagnosis in the neurologist’s office, we were duly blindsided a second time by the prognosis of probable death by age 2.

Jeffrey’s muscles (swallowing and sucking) began their steady descent not long after that fateful day. Prayers and alternative treatments failed to squelch SMA’s devastating momentum. Our little guy had seemingly hit his peak — we’d have to imagine his voice beyond his sweet coos.

I’d wanted one last chance, one last-ditch effort to prove the no-hope doctors wrong. It looked like we might get it in the form of a consultation with a pulmonologist treating another little boy with SMA in North Carolina.

One week before the coveted appointment date, Jeffrey looked at me and uttered, “Uh-oh.” His first and last words.

I should have considered it an omen. How thankful I was, though, that I had one item to jot down on the list of endearing things our children said. All of our children.

Jeffrey may not have had a chance to spell it, but I think Mrs. Miner may be smiling anyway.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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