Do you need another hint?

I’ve realised that communicating with someone who has both a limited vocabulary and trouble enunciating has forced me to develop quite a good guessing game. I don’t suppose this is what they are talking about when they say train your brain to delay the onset of dementia? But why buy a crossword or sudoku app when I can attempt to discuss mystery topics with my small child without alerting her to fact that I don’t know what in hell we are discussing, all while trying to unravel the mystery topic? Easy.

There are occasions when Bitti and I can get into terribly ‘vibrant’ conversations over a particular word or phrase that she isn’t able to say clearly. But still, I can avoid these somewhat fraught moments more often than not by succeeding at interpreting clues so cryptic that to an outsider I almost appear to have read her mind. What follows is an example of one such conversation that began when Bitti, after a long silence in the car, suddenly piped up with this:

‘You are Achella double.’

She expected me to then assume the identity of this person. Only trouble was I didn’t know who that was because ‘achella double’ is nonsense. Then this happens:

Me: ‘Pardon?’

Bitti: ‘Achella double.’

Me: ‘Sorry, what now?’

Bitti: ‘ACHELLA DOUBLE!’

Me: ‘Look, I know you think you’re saying it very clearly, but I have no idea what that is.’

Bitti: ‘Aaaaaargh.’ [probably a lot more of this, but I don’t want to wear out my ‘a’ key]

Me: ‘Can you try to explain it another way?’

Bitti: ‘Her makes … her doggies … her, AAAAARGH ACHELLA DOUBLE’

Me: ‘Is she a person?’

Bitti: ‘Yes, she want to, to, she want to, to do a jacket!’

Me: ‘Aha! Cruella de Vil?’

Bitti: ‘Yes!! A-CHE-LLA DA-BIL!’

Me: ‘I’m with you now, she wants to make the spotty puppies into a coat.’

Bitti: ‘Yes, mummy!’

Me: ‘The movie is called 101 Dalmatians.’

Bitti: ‘Yes. The Croatians.’

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The moral of the story

Now that Bitti has a vocabulary broad enough to engage in conversation on any topic under the sun I have learned to both dread and welcome long car trips; this is usually where I get grilled like an overlooked democracy sausage. She has a lot of questions about this fucked up interesting world, and not all of them are super fun to answer.

burntsausage

Me, under interrogation

A month or so ago she finally voiced her concerns about the connection between living breathing animals and their dead counterparts served on plates. We were enjoying fish and chips on a family holiday when she turned to my unsuspecting brother and asked him ‘how did the fish get out of the sea and to be dead here?’. He wasted no time in handballing that one to me with a nervous laugh.

I am a vegetarian, so I have no problem with Bitti deciding not to eat meat, so that aspect of explaining fish production did not bother me. But even inured to the facts of meat production as I am, it was a confronting thing to have to explain the peculiarities of human double standards and cognitive dissonance to a naive child. Most especially because a lot of what she has encountered in popular culture has revolved around animals dressed in human clothes, being depicted as furry or scaly versions of us, with the ability not only to speak, but to feel emotions. Peppa Pig, The Lion King, Hey Duggie, Play School, most relevant to this particular case, Finding Nemo. It does feel like a cruel joke to turn around and tell her now that in reality humans would rather eat animals than consider their feelings. Well darling, we just like to anthropomorphise them for fun, like a cat playing with a mouse before it goes down the hatch.

eatingnemo

Yum!

However, kids movies have taught me that she will be unemotional in her assessment of the whole animals = meat bombshell. Children’s film scriptwriters do not hesitate in making a joke out of the tension between the depiction of animals as lovable, feeling entities with personalities and the reality of human treatment of those very same animals. In The Little Mermaid the prince’s chef chases Sebastian the lobster around the dining room with a carving knife, and in Moana Maui refers to her chicken sidekick as a ‘boat snack’ and dedicates himself to fattening up the dull bird to this end. Kids are sociopaths, movie makers know this. Parents should cotton on.

So the confronting part of this conversation is all due to my adult perspective and disappointment in mankind. Bitti accepted the explanation about fish being one source of food for all sorts of animals, including humans, with little apparent cognitive or moral disturbance. She ate a few bites of the fish, but she’s not much into deep fried foods anyway (I know! It’s like she’s not even human).

Aside from sometimes being reminded how relentlessly illogical and self-destructive humans can be, I am really enjoying these more cerebral conversations with Bitti. I am seeing a glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel that is mindless, repetitive songs, games and stories for kids. But, as Bitti and I discussed in the car recently, there is some time to go before she is ready to tackle the world and its moral challenges.

Bitti likes to pretend we are being chased by the police when we are driving (when we’re not being chased by a T-rex, that is). OJ Simpson lived her dream; she fully endorses a slow speed chase. Talking about police and the work they do obviously lead to a conversation about jail. Bitti said she was happy for me to go to jail, as long as I could go with her. Otherwise, you know, who would she have to demand stories from? I said that could be a problem because they don’t put kids in jail. ‘But why??’

OJ

Bitti’s dream

I started explaining how at this point in time society tends to believe young kids can’t make good decisions yet because they haven’t evolved empathy and a moral framework and therefore can’t be held responsible for what they do. Well, I didn’t use those exact words, but you get the drift. She argued, ‘but I do have those things [morals]’. So as an example I asked her, ‘if you were walking along and someone in front of you dropped some money, what would you do? Would you keep it for yourself or run after them and give it back?’

‘Keep it!’ No hesitation. She answered almost before I had finished the question.

I laughed. ‘And that,’ I said, ‘is why you wouldn’t go to jail, and why you have to live under the guidance of your parents until you finish school’.

By then, with any luck, she will have developed an ethical and moral framework that will keep her out of jail, because right now she’s showing great promise as a criminal element hybrid of OJ and Alan Bond.

Gotta get got gone

It has been a while since Bitti began using ‘got’. A lot. We got a lotta got around here and I am struggling with it.

This evening after reading another Golden Book classic, The Saggy Baggy Elephant, she went through the back cover list of other books saying, ‘do we got that one?’ to each title. Each time I replied, ‘No, we don’t have that one’, but she doesn’t acknowledge my correction at all. It’s second only to the did/done mix-up in terms of grammatical nails-down-the-blackboard. (There has to be a word in a language somewhere that describes the physical pain caused by hearing language butchered?) I can only just manage to tolerate this particular mistake, by reminding myself that she is just three, and probably won’t be saying ‘Do I got that one?’ when she’s 18. If so, I’ll be looking for the grammar equivalent of a military camp to rehabilitate her. Although I bet no such thing exists, this world has its priorities all wrong.

Biti has been known to really test me by pulling out the big guns and adding negation and subject-verb agreement challenges, ‘He don’t got them,’ instead of what was correct for the situation, ‘She doesn’t have them’.

Cringe.

The mixing up of the male and female pronouns is interesting too, Bitti does this a lot. I know this is a challenge for speakers of languages that don’t have gendered pronouns, but haven’t really noticed it being a first language-learner’s stumbling block before. Then I was reading something about the over-representation of male characters in young children’s literature and suddenly thought maybe I had contributed to her he/she block. From age zero I have been reading to Bitti, and because I found a lot of the characters were male, I would often mix it up and change the gender of the characters each time I read. Perhaps I have unwittingly led her to believe that ‘he/she’ are interchangeable? Even with her stuffed toys I mix up whether they are girls or boys, and she does the same thing …

Spot_the_Dog_creator_Eric_Hill_dies_aged_86

Spot the dog is both male and female around here

In her mind, at this stage, the difference between boys and girls is purely anatomical, but she does see that difference. So why flip between using he and she seemingly at random? Maybe it is just a stage of development, or maybe I have created this mistake!

 

Oi! Rules are being broken here.

Pronunciation update. Bitti can’t say oi. This is utterly devastating for her. The citizenship test is going to be a real challenge since she cannot join in on the bogan refrain, ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi … ‘. I wonder where they will send her?

It’s not just ‘oi’, I mean how often do we really say that anyway? Any word that contains that sound is also out. For example, boy, toy, toilet, which become ‘bey’, ‘tee’, and ‘teelet’ respectively. Took me a while to remember this strange quirk and adjust so I could understand what she meant. God help anyone else who is attempting to converse with her about toys or boys (who, by the way, are different from girls because they wee standing up and she’s super jealous of that).

She’s also struggling with ‘au’ sounds, as in naughty. Lots of us are ‘neety’, which can be perplexing. Luckily her childcare has recently introduced her to a new system for classifying behaviour whereupon ‘naughty’ behaviour is red and ‘good’ behaviour is green. So there’s a lot less ‘neety’ based confusion going on now. The list of red behaviours is quite funny. There are some standards that have you nodding along, like yelling inside, talking when the teacher is talking, but then it all takes a swerve into stuff that you would only think to add if you worked in childcare or prison. Biting. Kicking. Using paddle pop sticks as shanks. I joke.

We have had quite a few chats about red behaviour (why is the bad stuff always so much more appealing than the good stuff?), and we’ve added a few more to the list for home.

  • Jumping on the kitchen table
  • Scratching on any fabric surface
  • Not sitting still to be patted nicely
  • Licking the butter
  • Hiding behind the bookcase
  • Getting under mummy’s feet when she’s cooking
  • Licking ones own arse

You might notice a theme in this list. The cat is under a new regime now, and he needs to get with the colour-coded program before he finds himself re-assigned to another, colder district (the backyard). This cat is so red he should start learning Russian.

ilickthebutter

Occasionally, when the cat is exhibiting green behaviour Bitti is able to get a few pats in. This led to discussion of the difference between patting and stroking. She decided that patting is quick up and downs, whereas stroking is long and slow ‘sides’. It makes sense, I am enjoying how she is figuring these things out through experience. She’s getting an instinct for language.

Looking forward to many more chats about words in the coming years. For now, I am getting marked red whenever I correct her wrongly conjugated verbs. She runned fast after she felled over, and no one will persuade her otherwise. Teeth well and truly gritteded.

 

Tiny straight shooter

Bitti has been dropping some pretty funny one-liners, so thought I’d share some of them here. Perhaps they fall into the ‘had to be there’ category, but I’ll try to replicate the humour.

Scene One: Bitti has dropped a grape on the floor and immediately become incensed. Now that delicious, juicy fruit is on the floor it cannot possibly be recovered and eaten, not ever. How will she ever recover from the injustice of it? Nothing can be done. Nothing!

I suggested she pick up the grape, which was resting not 5 cm from her left foot and still resided within the loose ‘ten minute rule’ food on the floor enjoys in this house. Her reply came instantly and with the extreme deadpan of someone who is oblivious to how ridiculous they sound:

‘I can’t get it because I don’t want to bend down.’

Scene Two: I have a friend over for lunch and at the time of their arrival Bitti is watching one of her precious DVDs at a volume that severely hampers my ability to continue preparing food and maintain a coherent conversation with another adult human. I grabbed the remote and turned the volume down two notches, causing Bitti to exclaim in outrage,

‘I can’t hear it now! See, they’re going *mimes speaking with extreme attitude*, but I can’t hear them!’

Scene Three: Bitti and I are chilling in the lounge when a fly zooms past her face. She turns to me and in a quiet but definite manner that resembled closely Liam Neeson in any of his performances as ‘wronged man with gun’, points to the fly meaningfully and says,

‘I want it dead.’

Enunciate! Discovering the importance of speaking clearly.

It seems every blog post now is going to start with my apologies for not posting sooner. I have the urge to write, but not the time. Or I have the time but not the urge. I’ve started keeping better notes on how Bitti is expressing herself so at least I have something to prompt a post now. And so, on to the latest instalment of her linguistic adventures …

Pronunciation

I noticed a few weeks ago that she now pronounces monkey correctly. This is most disappointing. For a long while monkeys were tatties [tah-tees]. She loved singing that song about monkeys jumping on the bed, and it’d come out ‘no more taaaaaatties jumping on the bed’. Alas, no more. However, there are other amusing errors to take its place.

A favourite game at the moment is Fighting. I’m handed any long-ish, stick-ish object and issued an instruction to ‘Bight!’. Whether wise or not, I have encouraged this by gifting her uncle toy pirate swords for his birthday for the express purpose of fighting with Bitti when she visits. Mostly this is an amusing way to annoy my brother as he is not capable of turning down her insistent requests to drop whatever he is doing and play with her. Add to that the general amusement to be found in observing a tall, muscular man being beaten backward by a puny child with more determination than coordination and I believe the gift has been a great success. It is entirely possible that my brother may disagree.

Returning to the mispronunciation of ‘fight’, I was quite sure she had a grip on the ‘f’ sound, so I tested her. I asked her say a few f-ing phrases and here’s what happened:

‘Can you say fairy?’

fight-club

Bight Club?

‘Fairy.’

‘Can you say fly?’

‘Fly.’

‘Can you say fear?’

‘Fear.’

‘Can you say fight?’

‘Bight.’

If you listen to the audio you can hear the clacking of fighting sticks as we talk. We are most excellent multi-taskers.

Bitti is acutely aware now of when her pronunciation differs from mine. A long while ago she observed that I said ‘Octonauts’*, while she could only manage ‘Ocpod’. She would frequently interject her attempts at communication with, ‘I can’t say my words!’, before trying another way to get her message across (well, that or collapsing in a screaming pile of frustration for 20 minutes, both being viable options when you’re but two years old).

At one stage she was telling her father about our neighbour and came back very concerned because he had mistakenly heard the name as ‘Jay’, but the name is actually ‘Jade’. ‘He doesn’t say it right!’ So, I had to intercede and clarify the name for her. It is so important to clear up miscommunications, as Bitti will tell you. She couldn’t rest until I had explained the mix up.

The latest amusing mispronunciation is her use of ‘yep’ instead of ‘yet’. She says, ‘I didn’t do that yep.’ Super cute, hopefully this one sticks around for a while.

Notes

*For the uninitiated, Octonauts is a TV show for young children. Various non-aquatic animals live in an ‘Octopod’ under the sea and effect rescues on marine creatures who, despite having evolved specifically for an oceanic habitat, seem oddly crap at managing in it unaided by the Octonauts team.

Groundhog day

I am not really sure why this happens, but it certainly feels like a deliberate attempt to drive me insane. Bitti creates these infuriating circular conversations that have you questioning your sanity and drawing upon every last ounce of patience. For example, this beauty from all the nights of the week:

‘Mummy, can I have a drink?’

‘Sure, here.’

‘No, from my pink bottle.’

‘Get off me, I’ll get it.’

I’m halfway across the room to get the bottle she just requested and I hear, ‘Mummy, where are you going?’

‘To get your drink bottle.’

‘But, why?’

Are you serious? Because you just frigging asked me for it you goldfish. I’m really starting to be concerned about her short-term memory.

Similar thing happens if I go upstairs to get dressed, shower or use the toilet alone. I spend a few minutes going over my plans, making sure she has something she’s engrossed in downstairs. I leave her apparently happy, absorbed in pouring water from one cup to another, or stacking Frozen stickers one on top of another (why??). However, no matter how content she seemed to be when I left the room, not 30 seconds after I reach my upstairs destination I hear the dreaded call, ‘Muuuuuuuumyyyyyyy, where are you?’

Sigh. ‘I’m upstairs.’ Like I said a hundred times before I came here. Now the neighbours can hear us talk about it too as we bellow at each other.

‘Come down!’

‘I’m getting dressed/weeing/showering, leave me alone for a few minutes please.’

Desolate cries emanate from below as she wallows in her misery on the bottom of the stairs.

‘Just come up if it’s that bad.’

‘I can’t. I’m stuck.’

FML.

‘I’ll be down in a minute.’

‘Waaaaaaaa, wa wa etc.’ comes the considered and well reasoned reply. Less than a minute alone on the ground floor of the dwelling she has resided in for two and a half years and she is apparently in mortal danger without my presence. Even in the face of such horror down below, ascending the stairs that she gleefully tackled solo from age 10 months is also now unconscionable. Her life is truly girt by misery.

While it is endearing to be so needed, I cannot help but day dream about the day I will be able to dress without being interrupted 15 times to settle a dispute between two stuffed animals, or assume the identity of a Disney character, or fix an invisible and imaginary injury (an injury that will later be submitted as a reason for her being unable to dress). Maybe one day I will be able to both select and don my outfit for the day in the space of 30 seconds, rather than spend five chronically interrupted minutes walking aimlessly from wardrobe to drawers collecting mismatched items that do not suit the forecast temperature for the day.

I suspect that day is far from now, so look forward to many more circular conversations and interrupted wardrobing attempts in the years to come.

 

Liar, liar

Lately Bitti has upped the ante with her deception practice. Previously it had been limited to answering yes when the truth was no. I’d ask ‘did you nap today?’ and she’d say yes, but the childcare app would tell me otherwise.

But now she has graduated to actively making up stories to designed to mislead. I mean, she’s not getting away with it because she’s not quite onto the fact that I can collect evidence of her activities by listening to noises in the house, or smelling her, or quite simply standing behind her while she does the exact opposite of what she’s about to tell me she did.

liar-liar-liar-liar

A few days ago she went upstairs to ‘brush her teeth’. I came up ten minutes later to find her neck deep in books in her room, toothbrush abandoned by the bedroom door. When she heard me coming she jumped, and started over-explaining her actions, ‘I finish brushing my teeth, now I reading!’. Sure, and I’m Peppa Pig. I picked up the bone dry toothbrush and expressed my skepticism, but she stuck to her story. I was the bad guy for daring to doubt her word.

Creating plausible lies could take a while, at the moment she consistently makes the rookie error of over-explaining what she has been doing. For example, last night she stole a Smartie off the gingerbread house we’d make earlier in the day (at which time she had been explicitly prohibited from eating more). Rather than just sticking it into her gob and eating it before I noticed, she make the rather brave decision to bring it over, resting it on her lips and looming into my view, thus revealing her imminent disobedience. Shortly thereafter, the gingerbread house went to reside up high. Bitti did make an attempt to climb the summit upon which the gingerbread house was installed, but fortunately Bitti+chair still = too short.

Looking forward to seeing what else she lies about in future …

 

 

 

Catching up on Bitti

It’s been too long again. The weeks fly by in a mundane blur and amidst it all, Bitti learns so many new words and grammar rules that I can’t keep up. Her pronunciation has improved markedly. Now she can say a few more consonant clusters. E.g. ‘sisa’ is now ‘spider’. And her use of the past tense is getting better, but there are still amusing constructions like, ‘I didn’t ate it’. And even better, ‘I don’t got that one’.

She is regurgitating more and more of what I say to her, which is concerning for many reasons. She stayed at her nana’s house a few weeks ago and was quite upset about their habit of leaving the TV one while they were occupied with other tasks, telling them to turn it off because they weren’t watching it! Nana was highly amused. She has no trouble speaking up if it is to inform on another person’s wrongdoing. Her childcare carers tell me that she often tells them about something naughty another child has done, or even tells that child directly not to do it. Great, she’s gonna be that kid in school.

Along with her improved speech is a better memory. She tells me stories now about her day. So-and-so threw bark chips in her face (explains the dirty nose), or she had a visit to a different room at childcare. And I am sometimes surprised by how far back she can remember events. The other day we were in the local park and she suddenly started talking about when we went on an egg hunt in the bushes nearby. That was obviously at Easter, six months ago when she was only just past two years old. It seems mad that she can remember that, but can’t recall what she had for lunch! It obviously made an impression. But then, it’s chocolate, why wouldn’t it?

Increasingly, she is paying close attention to how I read. She used to never question me about how I got the words I said out of books. But ever since the Mr Magee book with the ‘Ooooo’, she has been interrogating me about letters and words when I am reading. She asks me to point out ‘her’ letter (the one her name starts with), and we hunt it on the pages of her books. She likes to cover up the words deliberately so I can’t read. Although with some books (such as that bloody FROZEN), I know it all by heart anyway.

She also notices the difference between the way I say words and the way she does. A common refrain from her nowadays is ‘I can’t say my words’, when she is trying to saying a word that is a bit tricky or simply completely beyond her ability. For example, she says ‘Ocpod’ while I say ‘Octonauts’. She’ll say, ‘you say it different, mummy.’ and we spend some time sounding it out slowly until she gets the shits and we move on to something less frustrating. But I love her mispronunciations, they’re cute and sometimes accidentally rude. What’s not to love? Like when ‘pancake’ became cumcake

 

You can stand under my rainbrella

Bitti has invented a word. She has some pretty dodgy pronunciations for existing words, which while likely incomprehensible to strangers, are pretty damned cute to me and I am not in a hurry to correct her. My favourite is still ‘cuggles’ for cuddles, but here are some other chart toppers:

  • Titty Joe (Milky Joe).
  • Faffiy fiffas (flappity flippers).
  • Gussing (disgusting).
  • Skid (squid).
  • Cancake (pancake).
  • Hahe (hungry).
  • Hohu (horrible).
  • Gogoh (doctor).
  • Tatee (monkey).
  • Sosi (sorry).

Recently her speech has gone next level again and she has corrected some of her mispronunciations. She used to say ‘bawbaw’ for water, but now it sounds pretty normal. Actually, the first time she said water properly, I couldn’t understand was she was saying because I wasn’t prepared to hear the word said correctly.

rainbrella

Testing a new rainbrella.

We have a plastic umbrella that she likes to play with, pretend its raining inside and we all have to take cover (unless we’re out of favour, then we need to stand in the ‘rain’). At first it was pronounced ‘brebra’, but now it has been named the ‘rainbrella’, which is kind of perfect. And what is an ‘um’ anyway? (Well, it turns out the the ‘um’ bit comes from Latin ‘umbra’, meaning shade, and the Italian ombrella, meaning shadow.) But rainbrella is much more fun so I shall be encouraging that new word.

Look forward to her next linguistic creation.