on language


"The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face."
-- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

as you may know, i am endlessly fascinated by the nuances of how toddlers pick up language. i love to notice which things come earlier or later, or to see the little quirks and idioms they grab on to from their parents. and all of this changes so quickly as they grow. eva is and has long been quite a talker, but this isn't about checking off milestones. i love that as her language skills grow and develop, she is increasingly able to pull back the curtains for me so i can see what's going on in her head. the more i get to see of how and what she thinks, the more i find that i just adore her spirit and personality. she's sensitive and caring, observant and curious; she has a quirky sense of humor that fits right in around here, and is sharp as a tack. none of this is news to me, but the more i see of it -- and so much of that comes through language -- the more i fall in love (if that's even possible?).

in a (very loose) interpretation of those dorky motivational posters in offices everywhere (you know, the one of the guy surfing that says "persistence" under it followed by some inspiring quote?), i've assembled some of the little language things i've been noticing lately under theme headings.

("thank you, mama.")
you know all the proverbially thankless tasks of motherhood, like bum wiping or fixing endless snacks? these are all now thanked. no act is too small to escape her appreciation radar: glass of milk, a kiss on forehead, the wiping off of the jelly from the face. "thank you mama for getting me a clean bowl." this sounds like a dream come true (and proof that modeling works! we rarely tell her "say thank you", we just do it, and now she follows in that behavior), and i'm not complaining at all, but it's sort of weird in a way, too, to be thanked a hundred times a day. as in, you don't have to thank me sweet monkey, that's just my job. this behavior, however, emphatically does not extend outside of our home. she still won't thank the clerk at target or a friend who lends her a hand. oh well, all in good time.

"okay, but first i just have to finish this one thing."
yeah, just a sec, mom. five more minutes! i think i'll be hearing this one from now all the way through her teenage years.

("i'm sorry, mama." said in the saddest small voice ever.)
this one can freak me out. she apologizes for everything that isn't her fault. if larry gets frustrated while working on a project and expresses that aloud, or if i cry for any reason (or no reason, as the hormonal case may be), she comes over, pats his arm or my head, and says "i'm sorry. i'm sorry you are sad. it's okay, i'll help make you feel better." it's very sweet, but sometimes i think in her instinct to be caring, she takes on too much of our emotion as her own. i worry about that at times. she's so sensitive to it.

crunchy flowerassertion of opinion
("i believe that...")
"mama, i believe that those boys have one orange ball and one blue ball."
"i believe it's too cold to play at the park today."
it's weird (and at the same time, totally expected) to hear your child talking and sounding just like you. sometimes you wonder where they got a certain linguistic quirk, only to realize you say it yourself fifty times a day. ("there you go, mama." -- gee, wonder where she gets that one? if you've ever met me, you don't wonder either.) but i was telling this story to my friends and said that i didn't think i said "i believe" all the time. i stood corrected by the crowd; apparently i'm guilty of this one, too! (how is it i don't know what it is i say all day long? how can this be a surprise to me?!) but it's irresistibly cute coming out of the mouth of a two year old (you know, "the mouth part of the face").

("did you ever notice that...")
"did you ever notice that Owl and Wren both have wings because they are birds? and some dinosaurs have wings too? and airplanes!" (a shout out to all the "bear snores on" et al fans out there! :)
"did you ever notice that when i was littler i used to ride backwards like panowah will when she comes out of your belly, but now i ride frontwards? did you notice that mama?"
this is her all time top phrase. she wants to share her many observations throughout the day, and more than that, she wants to know if you know the things she knows. sometimes i don't, so she "teaches" me about it.

("don't worry." "but that's okay.")
"don't worry, i'm being very careful because i'm the big sister. it's not too dangerous." (said as she perches atop a high unstable bit of furniture.)
"oops, i dropped that spoon, but that's okay. i can pick it up later."
again, my own words turned around on me. i say these things to her when she starts to get upset about some unintended consequence of her actions. and now she reassures me about it before i have the chance.

she's been saying these for a long time. less so now that i'm used to it, but it used to just crack me up. here are some quotes i saved from around the time of her birthday last summer:
"actually, that's not juice, but it's just water."
"this look like a toy. mama, what is this actually?"
"we don't feed lemma people food, otherwise she might get sick."
"gram make food for grampy probably."
"who make this house? maybe matt maked it."
i was struck reading those, because already she sounds different -- now she knows noun/verb agreement, and gets a lot of irregular verbs. it's fascinating, watching language acquisition over time.

("is it okay if i...?")
"is it okay if i stand on the table, because i will be very careful?" um, no.
"is it okay if i draw on this paper?" hurray! she finally asks before coloring on every stray bit of paper in our house.

"i think that would be a good idea, mama. let's do it!"
"do you want to go have dinner at a restaurant? i think that would be a good idea."
"maybe we should make muffins. um-hmm, that would be a good idea. c'mon mama, let's go do it."
it's like living with my own personal cheerleader.

("... isn't it?", "...didn't i?")
"mama, that's a beautiful green shirt, isn't it?"
"i made a big huge mess in here, didn't i?"
again, a habit of mine, ending every statement with a question. but she enunciates the heck out of all those consonants in the last words of the sentence, so it just sounds so cute to me.

"i'm doing it, but it's hard and takes a lot of work. babies can't do it, only big sisters can."
we talk about this sort of thing a lot, how some things take a lot of hard work, or can only be learned through lots of practice. and, she's very much into embracing her role as the big sister (and i'm trying to help her realize how little babies can do at first -- she's got big ideas about helping panowah eat or brush teeth or play with toys right away.)

(often used words: beautiful, gorgeous, delicious, wonderful, and -- in a divergent theme -- gross)
"i really like that necklace you're wearing today, it's gorgeous."
"thank you for making me muesli for breakfast earlier. it was delicious muesli."
"throw away this avocado peel mama, it's old and gross." (as in, left over from 3 whole hours ago.)

jumbled logic or reversed causal order
"but papa, you can't do that, because i'm your daughter!" (in response to his picking her up.)
"i'm so sleepy because i'm going to bed." ahh, if only it worked that way!

i795k4-=0r=e22ccand finally, the favorite: recitation
eva's taken to reciting dozens of nursery rhymes starting a few months back. it's weird, because she'll launch into one that i have barely heard of, since she gets them from books read to her by others as well as from me. a perennial favorite is wee willie winkie, and before that, humpty dumpty. a new one in frequent rotation: "tom tom the piper's son stole a pig and away did run. the pig was eat and tom was beat and tom went crying down the street!" she says it just like that, with nary a pause, but with a crescendo on the end.

um... have you ever noticed that the messages presented in nursery rhymes don't necessarily conform to current cultural norms? we're not so much with beating kids for their porcine thievery these days. that said, i tried to change the wording once in the "taffy was a welchman" one, from someone being "beat" on the head with a stick to "bonked" -- just because this seemed like an idea i didn't need to plant in her head for our next park gathering (but don't ask why bonking with a stick was deemed acceptable, it was a snap decision -- and she stopped me. i was corrected in no uncertain terms: no, mama, it's "beat" not "bonked". she's a stickler for staying on script, i guess.

but when your kid is into nursery rhymes, the strangest things come out of their mouths. like this random line: "gentlemen come every day to see what my fine hen doth lay." (said with an impromptu tissue paper bonnet she fashioned from my birthday wrappings.) i must have looked slightly perplexed in surveying the scene, because she shot me a huge grin then trotted off to sing one of her troubadour songs, the kind she writes on the fly about the toaster or a gas station we drove past.

but if there's anything that can beat nursery rhymes around here, it's the grinch. what does it mean when your baby is obsessed (still! in february!) with "how the grinch stole christmas"? talk about weird stuff coming out of your child's mouth: "for fifty-three years i've put up with it now. i must stop this christmas from coming, but how?" she rattled off under her breath while i made her breakfast. i'm used to the randomness of toddler brains, but that one made me stop and squint at her for a minute.

but why should i be surprised? the day before while making valentines, eva sang the following (to a tune of her own invention): "tomorrow the grinch knew that all the who's boys and girls would wake up bright and early and they would rush for the toys. then all the noise noise noise! that's one thing the grinch hated, the noise noise noise noise..." (i got that on tape :). she is also fond of discussing "cindy lou who who is not more than two", and how she says "santy claus, why are you taking our christmas tree, why?" or announcing that the grinch left "crumbs much to small for the other whos' mouses." but other than quote the lines to you, she'll also explain the premise of the story. the other day, she came over and took away my stuff, but then a minute or two gave it back, saying she was playing the grinch and her heart grew three sizes that day, so she brought my things back.

if she keeps this up, she is definitely being cindy lou who for halloween. i can hear it now: "i think that would be a good idea, let's do it! but actually, mama, did you ever notice that cindy lou who has yellow hair and i have brown hair? but don't worry, that's okay. it will still be beautiful!" okay fine, i'll make you a wig.

here, fishy fishy

No comments: