By Candace Echols
My daughter has recently started saying “you guys” to her father and me.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that we correct her. “Y’all, you mean.” She’s 12, so she sees little reason to hide her feelings on this matter. Still, we stand firm. “You may speak to your friends at school that way, but here at home, we are ‘y’all.’ Got it?”
She nods and I’m sure she wonders why we choose that battle to fight.
Honestly, I wonder too. With all the hills available these days for parents to die on, why-oh-why are we choosing that one? My husband and I haven’t discussed the reason, but when the conversation arises with her, we are on the same page. Every time.
Our daughter is coming of age in a world that feels as tumultuous on the outside as she does on the inside. It is extremely disorienting. It must feel like being in a clothes dryer every day, never knowing which way is up with your own emotions and adding the heat of middle school breathing down your neck. And then hearing headlines float around that suggest most adults feel at least a little discombobulated too. It’s gotta stink to feel the ground shaking without and within all at the same time.
I think this is why we insist upon being called y’all.
It’s oddly stabilizing. It suggests that there is something I can say to a group of people (“all of you” or “you all”) without having to tailor it for each one. The crowd can listen collectively and feel freedom to process it individually. It hints at the idea that you all might agree on something. Together. At the same time.
Really, it’s like a group hug in one word.
“You guys” just doesn’t have that same ring. I’m sorry to you, Laura Hill, with your decidedly Long Island self. I’m sorry Melanie and Doug. “You guys” is right for you guys, and you know I love you, my Northern friends, but let me be honest. I’m not a guy. I’m just not. It’s a miss from the start. I don’t feel unified with my fellow humans when it hits my ears.
But when I hear y’all, there’s an instant camaraderie with the person next to me and the person next to him. There’s an assumed peacefulness between us. As a group, we are summed up in four beautiful letters—and a wink of an apostrophe—and addressed as if that there’s a working harmony already there. We may not agree on everything, but we are striving for the good of one another and that’s not nothing.
Y’all does that.
It creates a magic—a synthesis—that is like administering salve that feels good on a spot that may not. So, when my daughter chooses this part of her lexicon to leave in the dust, we have to pause and help her re-assess (teens love it when their parents do this, by the way). She’s smart and she may go places and it may mean that “y’all” could hold her back someday. That would be a shame, but we would understand. As long as she’s here, though, under our roof and with our family, it’s important that she assume that the people around her are actively working toward the good of the whole community. It’s imperative that she hears a harmony between them that sings. It’s vital, both for her health and for theirs, that she finds ways to contribute to the music through her own gifts, talents, and ideas. Sorry. I got carried away. I know I didn’t need to go into that much detail here.
Because y’all know what I mean.
Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine.