Yo Mama So Fat
If I fall, I’ll make an earthquake.
That’s what some kids at my son’s school have told him about me, his mother, and he is confessing his feelings to me, offering adjective after adjective that come close to describing his pain. This makes him feel angry and hurt and offended and embarrassed. And it has kept him awake past his bedtime, whispering to me from his pillow.
He didn’t want to tell me the earthquake thing. He thought I’d feel hurt. But it’s been on his mind, and after several snow days, he goes back to school in the morning, where he can expect the usual creative varieties of teasing.
He loves me. His love opens a deep fault in him. The idea that his friends would be cruel to me is nearly more than he can take.
As he explains himself, it is the last emotion he mentions, embarrassment, that sticks. The idea that I embarrass my son humiliates me. I want to change something to take away a source of shame, and I am, in fact, on a diet—have been for weeks. I’ve lost fifteen pounds, whatever that does to the Richter scale. But I’m the adult here; I know that there will always be something to mock that will confuse and hurt my sensitive child; even skinny moms can shame. In a way, it’s good that the target is me. I’m large, padded; no kid joke can really touch me.
Actually, as jokes go, “Yo mama’s so fat, if she falls down, there’s an earthquake”—well, that’s a reasonably good third-grade stab at the dozens. It’s not an articulate age, but kids start to get some style and substance at this point. It wasn’t until a year later, in fourth grade, that I began to write stories and poems. Maybe an educational theorist could explain if this age level, eight and nine, is a time when language gets figurative and colorful. My earthquake-making is a solid example of hyperbole for effect, and the English instructor in me applauds it.
But my son has never heard of the dozens. I grab my phone from the nightstand and show him some examples of “yo mama” jokes. Yo mama’s so fat she bleeds gravy. Yo mama’s so stupid she got hit by a parked car. Yo mama’s so hairy she shaves with a lawnmower.
He concedes that some of these are pretty funny, and I tell him this is a genre of joke, and it is not intended as a truthful statement about the target’s mother. My explanation makes sense to him; one of his friends who jokes about me has never actually seen me, and the other is the funniest kid in the class, prone to exaggeration for comic effect. The funny one likes me; when I chaperone field trips, he never leaves my (fat) side. He and I once yukked it up together as we made our way through a butterfly garden, and we had a great time, practically bent over with laughter the whole time.
My son feels somewhat placated. If he were more confident, I’d encourage him to try a dozens-style joke in reply, but I have a feeling this would backfire. I can picture the moment, my son earnestly reporting that someone’s mom is so dumb that she has a hard time figuring things out, or so fat that her clothes are really tight, or so hairy that she has a few visible hairs on her chin. I’ve raised an earnest truth-teller more than a nimble joker, and that makes the dozens sort of tricky.
Of course, to be perfectly clear, I am pretty fat. I’m lose-fifteen-pounds-and-no-one-notices fat. Yo mama’s so fat that she sometimes feels uncomfortable about how fat she is. Yo mama’s so fat that she sometimes wishes she weren’t quite so fat.
To some extent, I can embrace the hyperbole—even appreciate it. I would not mind causing tremors with each step I take into the school for parent-teacher conferences. The DMV would benefit from an aftershock. I wouldn’t be above taking a destructive fall if it meant a day or two off work, a few impassable roads in my town.
Even the largest woman in the world must sometimes feel undetectable. I think we’d all like to believe that we register—that there is some instrument that can prove we are present.
When one is seismic, one takes comfort in the seismograph.
Karen Craigo teaches English in Springfield, Missouri. A poet and essayist, she is the author of two chapbooks, most recently Someone Could Build Something Here (Winged City, 2013). She is the nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review, and she also serves as interviews editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.