Secrets of the universe traded for pocket change and snacks

I’ve mentioned our one-year-old’s penchant for using the words Mommy and Daddy interchangeably. He’s getting better at differentiating the proper usage of each, but he still backslides once in a while and uses a universal Daddy to cover the nomenclature of both parents.

It feels as though this child is adopting the English language slower than his brother did, though he seems, in general, to be a quicker mimic and a bit more advanced with hand-eye coordination. He certainly has a stronger throwing arm, and is not afraid to use it, even at point-blank range.

His reluctance to use our words does not mean that he is the silent type. To the contrary, he is quite verbose in his own language, which he speaks most eloquently, and with passion. Last night, we were writing with crayons. He would make a mark on the paper and then tell me the story of what it meant. He was animated in the telling, using his voice, hands, and facial expressions to relay the nuances of his tales. When his eyes grew wide, I knew it was the serious part; when he showed me his scared face, I knew to be frightened.

He enjoyed telling me what he knew, all in his own language. All he needed from me was an occasional acknowledgement, in any language, that I was interested. It occurred to me that this might be his last chance to tell me these things – the secrets that only babies know about life and the universe. Soon, he will speak our language, making it necessary that he forget all the infant wisdom with which he was endowed. It is not good for adults to know too much about Creation.

Preaching to the chair

Extolling the true meaning of life . . . to a chair.

Now that he has unburdened his soul, I expect the slow transition to our language to quicken. He is already assimilating more of our words into his vocabulary, and in a most impressive way, methodically choosing the important words first.

Juice and No are already firmly within his lexicon. Recently, he added another a vital word. We encountered an arcade game one day. He became interested in the coin slot. I told him that was the place where you put the money, then set him on a chair so he could watch the demo. Soon, he climbed down, pulled me to the game, pointed at the coin slot, and said, “Money.” Apparently, the demo was not engaging enough, and if Daddy isn’t good for a couple of quarters, what is he good for?

Days later, he saw an image of spare change on the computer. His eyes widened. He pointed and exclaimed, “Money!” If this is not proof enough of his systematic adoption of words based upon their usefulness, it should be noted that he added the very important word Cheetos to his repertoire only moments after his first taste.

Looking for Cheetos

If there is juice, money, or Cheetos on top of that counter, he’s in business.

Now that he knows how to indicate Money and Cheetos, he is at work on perfecting one of the cornerstone words of toddlerhood: Mine!

Life as an interchangeable part

Toddlers have a way with words. Their own way with their own words. They are some of the few people on Earth who say exactly what they mean. Pity we can’t understand any of it.

Our one-year-old has mastered his pronunciation of the words Mama and Dada. This was a happy milestone, until we realized that he was using them interchangeably when addressing his mother and me. I might have been Dada when I left for work in the morning and Mama by the time I got home again. Now, I sometimes forget to bring things home from work, but I’ve never yet left my Dada parts at the office.

Likewise, my wife can go from Mama to Dada without me perceiving a difference in her appearance, and I’m fairly well-informed regarding her anatomy. Buster might bump his knee and cry out for his mother’s loving arms with the plea, “Mama!” After the tears dry, he might tap her on the arm and point out to that very same Dada just exactly where he had hurt his leg.

We recalled Buster’s big brother going through a phase of development where he too threw these terms around without regard to gender, so we bided our time. Still, we took pains to point out which name goes with which parent whenever Buster seemed inclined to listen to our gibberish.

snowball school

Making a snowball with his brother, whose name he always gets right.

This went on until my wife proved again why she is the smart parent. “I don’t think he’s actually referring to us when he says Mama or Dada,” she explained. “I think Mama means help and Dada means look.”

Upon careful reflection, it all fell into place. Whenever he was distraught, he called out “Mama!” When he wanted to point something out, he did so to Dada, regardless of the parent at hand.

It’s nice to imagine that Mama and Dada are baby’s first words, but that doesn’t seem wholly accurate here. He’s been spouting words that don’t mimic adult speech for months, and they all mean something to him. You don’t preach with such fire and brimstone if the words don’t mean anything to you. Are Mama and Dada truly first words because they sound like words we know, even if they don’t mean what we think they should?

When it comes to valid communication, Buster’s first real word is juice. We have it; he wants it. Nothing could be plainer than his demand when he plants himself in front of the fridge and says, “Juice!” He need not be concerned whether it’s Help or Look who’s in the kitchen with him. We both have reached the stage of development where we understand the proper meaning of juice.

Thank God his parents are finally catching on to this language thing. He was beginning to worry about us.

If only we would reach developmental milestones that allowed us to understand more words, he would be much less concerned about our progress as parents.