A few years ago, my twin sister called to tell me that she met someone I used to work with.
“You’ll never guess who I met last night!” she exclaimed. “Do you remember a Scott Larson?”
Of course I remembered a Scott Larson. Except in my mind he was “the” Scott Larson. UVA grad Scott; rugged, I-like-to-rock-climb Scott. He and I had worked together in an office full of cave-dwelling Internet developers. He had stood out simply for showing his face during daylight hours and speaking in complete, coherent sentences. I hadn’t seen Scott since the Internet bubble burst and I decided to stay home with my first child.
“Oh, no kidding,” I reply nonchalantly. “Scott Larson, huh. Small world…”
“Yeah, and he totally remembered you!”
I immediately chucked aside my thinly veiled female pride. “He did? What did he say?!” I waited in unabashed anticipation for Scott Larson’s words to bring my former self back to me: the one who once had a promising career, was valued for her intellect and who wasn't covered in spit up.
“Oh, you know – he wanted to know what you were up to, whether you were working or just a mom now…”
“Wait; Hold-up. ‘JUST’ a mom? Did he really say it like that?”
Awkward pause. “Um, yeah? But I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way! He’s just a guy, remember?”
There it was again: that word.
Right then and there, I identified the real problem. It wasn’t Scott’s implied editorial, deliberate or not. The problem was the word. And so I decided to hold a grudge against the word, "just." I developed a sixth sense for spying it in print, secretly judged others for using it., and downright condemned those who over-used it.
It took more energy than I expected. The word is one of the most used words in the English language. Its popularity ranks above “very” and only slightly behind “more.” In addition, I’m female. As a gender, we tend to use the word twice as much as men.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to sometimes using the word myself, no matter how subconscious. For example, when my young daughters would lap up to me like puppies and plead me to play with them, my knee-jerk response? “Sure sweetie. Be there in just a minute!” Even they knew a stall tactic when they heard one.
Over time, it also became clear that my hatred could not be absolute. Several appropriate, even enriching, uses of the word became acceptable, like Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign. Or Stevie Wonder’s classic, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” The word has even warmed my heart, like when my grandmother taught me how to knit. Her strong hands guided mine to complete my first purl stitch as she coached me to do it “just so” in her thick Italian accent.
In the end, I have decided to limit my strong disdain of the word to specific intents, such as the word’s ability to help one cower (“I just thought that…”), to avoid confrontation (“just checking to see if you’re finished yet”), or to fake modesty (“What, this? It’s just a little something I whipped up.”)
And Scott Larson’s intent, of course. “Is she just a mom?”
No, I’m not.
I’m a mother, wife, twin, friend, neighbor, freelance writer, yoga student, bibliophile, caffeine addict, high-tech drop-out, armchair therapist, and storyteller. Just to name a few.