Logic and its forebears

I love a good argument, probably more than the next person. But arguing with a three-year-old has its own set of rules i.e. there are none except that they win. It’s much like arguing with Mark Latham or, if you like, a brick wall. So needless to say, there have been some rather amusing arguments with Bitti in the last few months as her language development gathers steam and she enters into experimentation with the truth and meaning making.

My mum was one unsuspecting victim of Bitti’s newfound predilection for pedantry when she inquired about the whereabouts and current state of a chocolate frog I said she had received earlier that day.

Nanna: I heard you got a chocolate frog. Where is it?

Bitti: It’s here with us.

N: Really? I thought you ate it already.

B: I did, it’s in my tummy. And my tummy is here. So it’s here with us! *said in such a tone as to imply nanna was a maniac for even asking.

Oh, it’s all so cute when they’re one metre tall, but this kind of smart business isn’t going to win her many friends when she’s older. She got me up against the wall at a later date when I was asking her to move her legs so I could see the computer screen.

Me: Can you please move your legs? I can’t see.

Bitti: *fails to move legs*

M: Bitti, move your legs please.

B: They’re not even in your way.

M: Yes, they are. I’m not going to ask again.

B: Just look around them.

M: I’m going to count to three, then I’ll move them for you.

B: *moves legs just far enough to be out of my line of sight*

M: Thank you.

B: It’s not my fault they were there.

M: Really, how’s that? Is someone else controlling your legs? Are you a Thunderbird?

B: *ignores cultural reference she’s too young to understand* It’s not my fault. You grew my legs in your tummy. If you didn’t grow them they wouldn’t be in your way.

Me: areyouforreal

By this logic, everything she ever does will be my fault. I feel she will be playing this self-appointed trump card for a while. Meanwhile, can anyone tell me how to grow legs that don’t get in my way, mouths that can be shushed with a look and hair that brushes itself?

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Sprinkling adverbly

Bitti has some serious language skills now. She uses adjectives and adverbs like a boss, and it’s surprising and cute when she whips out a new one. Today was another new one, she was looking for something to put her latest acquisition in (a toy bison). She picked up an old jewellery box and said, ‘this is certainly going to hold it’. Certainly. Or when I didn’t want more sticks in my bag but she cut through my excuses with, ‘but they can easily fit in your bag!’

A few weeks ago she was talking about our cat, in between quizzing me about why he was sitting, why his eye winked, why he turned his head and just as I started to get annoyed by the constant questioning about an animal’s unknown motivations for every body movement, she said, ‘MJ is a big cat sitting on the bed. MJ is a big fat cat sitting on the bed. MJ is a big fat white cat sitting on the bed, grumpily.’ LOL, (although, I feel I need to point out that he is not actually fat. Grumpy is accurate). It was a like one of my old language classes where you start with a basic sentence and gradually add more information as you progress through text book chapters. And just like in my old language classes, what we are talking about is rarely anything people discuss with great regularity in the real world. She is super cute, but needs a new text book.

sprinkle

Then this week I got, ‘I have a similar one at dad’s house’. SIMILAR. I don’t know why, but hearing these unnecessary but nuance-creating words is really affecting. She is growing up so fast; she now needs adverbs and more abstract adjectives to get her meaning across. And I love how they just pop up unexpectedly. She’s been quietly hoarding all this new information and observations about words, studying how others use them and then just slips a new one into a sentence correctly, first time. It’s brilliant and makes me wonder why learning a second language is so bloody painful when we’re so naturally skilled at acquiring the first.

However, as fast as her vocabulary expands there are still hilarious mispronunciations that slip through. While she has updated her ‘oi’ sounds now and can say toilet, boy and toy correctly, we still get ‘ablow’ instead of below. And tomatoes are ‘besgusting’ rather than disgusting (but if I take the seeds out they are apparently acceptable!).

Perhaps the most adorable at the moment is ‘gecko’ instead of echo. This worked well when I took her into work and she needed to announce that she’d found a ‘gecko’ in the foyer at top volume (all the better to hear the gecko with), while tens of people stood around the lifts trying not to laugh. She also has a tendancy to get her Kath and Kim on when talking about humans, who are yoomans. As in, ‘Kim, I’m only yooman.’

Sidenote: Can’t wait for her to be old enough to enjoy that show, she’s clearly a kindred spirit.

kath-kim

An inquiring mind

I stumbled across an article the other day that reported mums are asked 300 questions a day by their darling children. Apparently four-year-old girls are the most inquiring, asking up to 390 questions per day. That is one question every 1 minute 58 seconds. Bitti is not yet four years old, but I feel she is exceeding the average on question-asking for her age. The compounding factor is that the questions are not equally spaced throughout the day. For an hour there are no questions because she is distracted at the park. But once we finish playing, the questions come thick and fast. There is an hour’s worth of collected information to sort through. Sometimes she doesn’t have time to listen to the answer before she’s asking the next.

It doesn’t stop with me either, she asks everyone the same questions. After Bitti has spent some time with her nanna it is reported that the same questions are asked that she asked of me over the preceding few days. It’s like she’s checking to make sure I am not giving her a bum steer. She’s too little to use Google yet, so I suppose this process is the best she’s got. Some recent questions:

‘What is skin made of?’

‘Are people animals?’

‘If all the animals and plants died, would the earth be sad?’

‘Why are all the dinosaurs only bones now?’

‘How come when I swing the bag upside down all the things don’t fall out?’

Respite from questioning is rare but there are ways to make it worse. The quickest way to provoke her curiosity, I find, is to sit down at a task that requires concentration, e.g. sit to write a shopping list or reply to an email. Suddenly there are innumerable pressing questions that must be satisfied by a response from me. The other event that prompts a barrage of inquisition is, of course, bedtime. Quite often my last words to her before sleep are, ‘no more questions for today’.

I couldn’t be happier that this day has arrived.

It has begun. Novice level sarcasm has been rolled onto the test track, and she’s getting it right.

Last week we went to the zoo where she received two stickers from the woman whose job it was to block the end of the queue for face painting and break every child’s heart by telling them no more faces would be painted on this day. She put those stickers on her hand, spied some coloured sand and dived into that for a play. Afterwards we realised that coloured sand = coloured hands so we headed to the toilet block to wash them. This process was complicated by her strict instructions not to get her stickers wet. Seeing as how they were located on the back of her green hands, this was a diabolically difficult instruction to follow. But, I did my best. As we left the toilet block I heard her say, ‘Thanks very much, you got my sticker wet.’

****Thanks very much****

All that was missing was the beat + NOT.

And so the sarcasm has begun. I imagine it will reach its peak at 14-15 years of age, so plenty of time to savour the ire. Ah, they grow up so quickly.

Another sign of the times is her shift to predominantly calling me plain old ‘mum’. I am no longer mummy; this moniker is reserved only for moments of particular fury or excitement. Bitti is not so bitti and seems to be ready to shift into her first share house, a house that will boast zero clean plates, be decorated by found objects and where most of the weekly budget will be splurged on Shopkins and sticker books.

Oh, except she’s decided we are going to live together forever. FOREVER. Even though my budget for treats and toys has been declared unsatisfactory and I insist on the inhumane practice of fingernail clipping with shocking regularity. So plain old mum is good for something yet I guess.

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.

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.’

wineopener

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.