Friday, August 7, 2009

Looking for Doffmetter

It is a lovely thing when your baby learns to talk. Lovely, and profoundly moving when the inchoate life-force reaches out and makes contact. All first-time parents (and some well rested veterans) wait with hope for the first word and two months later its obvious to everyone else that "ga ga ga" means pony.

But while the baby books hype up the happiness of the first "Ma ma" they failed to prepare me for the conversational mishaps of my kids. Here they are, for your edification and compassion.


Lesson number 1: Don't rush a child's development. Don't read too many books. Once a kid starts talking its impossible to shut him up. It is ideal if the child starts to talk around the time they have something worthwhile to contribute.

Both my kids have been early and insistent talkers. Actually, that's not quite true. Neither Frost nor Wren started speaking much before 15 months but since they did they have both been insistently articulate. There is the infamous long distance trip I took (alone) with Frost to South Africa when he was 20 months old. He spent much of our 18 hour hop from Atlanta to Joburg running up and down the aisle singing the ABC song and chatting to the legs that had aisle seats. He was a bit of a celebrity. During the trip he amused everyone by commenting that avocados were "very TAsty." Just take it from someone that has sat by a toddler during 72 hours of international travel - toddlers that talk do not always talk about things that are INTERESTING.

Lesson #2: Children do not learn words for your gratification.

Wren: "Shannon, I would like some tea. "

Both boys called me Mama / Mummy in the beginning. Somewhere pre-3 Frost noticed that I was called Shannon by everyone else and started calling me that. I have been unable to shake it. Wren called me Mummy too but is now in the transition. "Shannon, Shannon" he calls. "Shannon, Mummy!" When I remind him that I am his Mummy he says "Mummy Shannon?" Fred says I should "just ignore him" calling me Shannon and only respond to Mummy but toddlers are missiles designed for the sole purpose of detonating the ignorer. If there is an ignorer versus toddler competition I am doomed by virture of motherhood. Just how much "Shannon, Shannon?.. make it tea. Now. NOW. PLEEEEAAAAASE SHANNON" can you take?

Lesson #3: Kids acquire the vocabulary the eldest child uses, not the vocabulary from Good Night Moon.

Wren: "That big digger carried dumpster and Frost said "whattaheck?" he said "whattaheck?"

I think I speak well. Whenever a Facebook ap prompts me to test my vocabulary or verbal IQ or the books I have read I feel secretly smug (a smugness I do not put to the test but..). However, it appears our family is in need of some similes for "dammit" "fudge" and "crap" which slip out in times of stress and drama (no, not many of those around here).

Frost learned from me and his friends and is free and easy with his "dammits" which have been classed as non-felonious swear words. "Crap" is considered only slightly unpleasant and OK in dire straits [such as when your Guy is killed when you are near the end of a level or the computer freezes up and you lose all your progress at the end of your screentime limit]. Still, while I can stomach some colloquial rudeness in my 8 year old I think it is quite unacceptable for Wren to say "DAMMIT" when his block tower falls over. Its just not right. Further, all those first time parents at the playground could not imagine their baby (progressing right along through the baby book) could say a bad word like that. They don't understand that while Wren looks like a 2 year old he is really a size-challenged 8 year old and runs with the gang. He doesn't want to be friends with their kids just because they have some temporal thing in common.

Lesson #4: If you can't understand your child ITS YOUR FAULT. Dumbhead. Its YOUR FAULT.

When talking with you, children use the word they remember they heard yesterday but, like broken down telephones, the word may not correlate with anything in the dictionary. In this case it is your responsibility to solve the riddle. During the solving you should never never say "I don't understand". That's rude. That's being a dumbhead and you should not be a rude dumbhead to your toddler. They are talking to you and your are the understander so understand already alright.

I'll give you an example.

Wren tells me he wants his doffmetter pants. "doffmetter?" I repeat, in case I am miss-hearing.

"Doffmetter," he affirms.

"Hrrmm, where did you see Doffmetter?" I struggle?

"Yesserday, I have doffmetter. The NEW one."

I try, but fail. "I don't understand, Wren."

"DOFFMETTER!!!!!" Wren is shouting and starting to speak high pitched. He is on the verge of a tantrum.

"Ok, where did you see it"

"Innalaundry!" he whines, supine.

"Ah, your new underpants?"

He hops up as I pull out all the 8 underpants hoping that one is doffmetter. We check all 8 and as I see him examining and rejecting them. Then we have a moment of insight.

Wren: "NO THOSE! Where is doff-meter-fighting-guy! "
"Fighting guy? OH OH....Darth vader? You want your Darth Vader underpants?"


"Wren, there were no pants with Darth Vader on."

I know I am right. They are all Cars and The Incredibles on the pants. Seeing him gathering himself to yell at my stupidity I rush to the laundry basket and gather all the other things we bought at Target. Wren scrabbles through them in excitement. We almost have reached communicative liftoff.

Wren says "It was there yesterday now it - is - not - there." [this is bad]

But all is not lost. Burrowing through dirty laundry Wren grabs at something blue. It is an Avengers T-shirt.

"THERE IT IS!" he is triumphant. "Hooraay."

We have found Doffmetter.

There are many other examples that are easy to see in retrospect or context but its very hard to make your mind leave the word you heard to find another. A few days ago Wren told me he had "lava" coming out his mouth (that was saliva) and you heard about Donna's Ark (Noah's to the biblical fundamentalists). We had "magnets" eating the dead seal on the beach and the T-doc on Greenlake is the "Greenlake DOCtor."

All of this is understandable as we acquire language without reading - I was the same learning spoken Indonesian - but it brings a great deal of stress to the conversational partner. The stakes are high and the volume loud. Its not like you or I learning to speak French over a cup of coffee. Its teaching someone else French when your student yells at you if you can't understand their guess at the word and they talk all the time about poop and cars and cookies and only learn the words that drive you crazy.

Now I am going to the dentist which means it will be quiet for an hour and I can drool lava from my mouth for a bit afterwards.


Izabell said...

ahh i am soo in the talking toddler and begging mother"please lets have silent time for a moment " stage!!!!!!

Linda said...

LOL! This made me laugh out loud again and again! You should consider writing comedy for a living. :)

Linda said...

BTW, the words they make you write on this comment page seems to me something Wren would say, don't you think? ;)