What makes toddlers laugh?

Bitti is approaching two and a half years now. She has been talking properly (i.e. in sentences) for only six months, yet I can’t really recall a time when my house wasn’t filled with endless chatter and the swiftly dealt orders of a budding dictator leader.

Tonight she went and pulled out the tape measure from her tool box, lay it on the ground, and ordered me to put my foot against it so she could see how long it was. I followed the order immediately–the consequences of not doing so were heavily implied–but was told to stop and take my slipper off first. Then, when she had considered my foot and made some serious-looking inspections at both the toe and heel end, she declared ‘Mummy, you have a really big foot’!

tape measure

Every now and then I feel a sense of wonder at how quickly and seemingly effortlessly she is acquiring language, and this was one such moment. Already she is using modals, adjectives, subject-object agreement, pronouns and comparative language, and that’s just in that sentence alone.

But the thing that impresses me the most is her ability to understand jokes. Now, they’re not very subtle jokes, but it does astonish me how much word play she picks up on. While playing with some kids recently I was accidentally called nana by one of Bitti’s little friends. They both giggled when she realised her mistake. Then I called them both nana too, and that was it, they were both down and out with giggles for the next five minutes.

And this morning I was talking to Bitti about all her friends at childcare, one of whom inverts the first two syllables of Bitti’s (real) name. She giggled about that, and then I said ‘we should call her ___’ and inverted the first two syllables of her friend’s name too. Well, I did not expect a laugh really, I was just saying it more for my own amusement. But Bitti got it! Amazing.

This is perfect, I love a good spoonerism, and if Bitti can already understand why they’re funny then I am set for stand-up material in this house.

Mostly I am glad to know she has a sense of humour that doesn’t only revolve around me hurting myself. Because my being poked or jabbed or bish-bash-boshed is the thing that will guarantee a laugh every time.

Lessons on sharing, delivered by a cat

IMG_4516From the moment Bitti arrived home from the hospital my cat has taken an ‘approach with caution’ stance to her. Before the human child came along my cat would often sit in my lap while I watched TV, sleep beside me in bed and generally hang around when I was in the house, much like a small, ineffective sidekick (if sidekicks were meant to be constantly underfoot and irritating as fuck. As I type this he is pushing his way onto my lap, lying across my right arm, causing numerous typos on the jkl; side of the keyboard).

When Bitti arrived Milky Joe (MJ) had to change his habits. I was breastfeeding a lot; Bitti loved to make a meal out of, well, meals, right from the get-go so MJ’s opportunities to sit on my lap were greatly reduced. As for bed sharing, now I was getting up every 2.5-3 hours to tend to my new, significantly less hairy baby, he was avoiding that practice too. In fact, during the first week Bitti was home his looks of utter disgust each time I turned the bedtime lamp back on were the silver lining that kept me going through the night time feeding slog.

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MJ successfully ignoring Bitti completely

And then as Bitti grew and became somewhat mobile he realised that he held great attraction for her, which was often expressed in the sort of hair pulling and random beatings you’d expect from someone who only recently discovered their own head. So he did what any sensible victim of random violence would do, he avoided her at all costs.

However, recently I have noticed things changing a little. While before MJ would leave the room as soon as we entered, now he is sticking around with some determination. He voluntarily sits right next to Bitti, and even allows her to interact with him on occasion. He must know where he sits in the pecking order because he has never scratched her like he does me. The worst she’s had is a biff on the head with claws retracted, which freaked her out enough because of the speed with which it was delivered.

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MJ getting stomped on; still did not scratch her

This increasing comfort with Bitti culminated last week in a lap-sharing stand-off. Bitti was on my lap, lolling around watching her allocated TV for the day. MJ clearly wanted in on the lap action, he jumped up and cruised around us several times, looking for a little space for himself. Then, when Bitti went off to grab a toy he saw his opportunity and took it, replacing her without hesitation and settling onto my pre-warmed legs. Bitti turned back, saw us there together and dialled the emergency response up to 11. She demanded he leave my lap post-haste, ‘Tittie Joe, get OFF!’ she thundered in a tone reserved for especially infuriating situations. He, being a cat, did not take heed in the slightest.

‘Mummy, take him off, get him off, mummy!’ Bitti is really really good at issuing commands these days. She took my hand and tried to use it to push MJ off my lap, like a despot using his underlings to perpetrate all the worst crimes in preparation for repudiating blame. I refused and suggested that she share my lap with the cat.

No. No. No. Absolutely not. Sharing the lap would be the worst thing that has ever happened in human history.

Ten minutes of talking about sharing later, she reluctantly agreed to share my lap! Bitti climbed up and took the left leg and MJ moved to the right leg, with some shade thrown Bitti’s way. We then sat together for the first time in 2.5 years, somewhat harmoniously. MJ not-quite-dozing as he kept one eye on Bitti, who was using this unusual proximity to helpfully point out all that cat’s features by touching them with her index finger.

Five minutes later Bitti had poked MJ’s nose one too many times and he took off for more peaceful zones of the house.

 

Opposites attract: when off is on

With Bitti’s growing vocabulary comes an increasingly large number of words that can be confused for each other as her pronunciation still isn’t quite right. We have had a few tense conversations where she repeats the word and I guess at a different interpretation of that word until I hit the right one, like a high-stakes game of Articulate where there is no prize but the absence of a toddler freak-out. But mostly she is expressing herself well (if not a tad too frequently at times), and we have some great chats about how things work, what things do and where they’re going.

However, there are some words that, without context, still make absolutely no sense. She does confound people who spend less time with her sometimes, like her grandparents. The random request, ‘I want ta-tas, s-ease’, might take some sleuthing to decipher. Here are some examples of ‘Bitti-speak’:

  • He-hee = heavy
  • Fu-fee = healthy (what you’ll always be diagnosed as after a quick assessment with a toy stethoscope)
  • Ta-tas = sultanas
  • Sissy = silly
  • Tuna tata = Hakuna Matata (she believes this is Simba’s name too, just to confuse things further).

As she now considers herself an expert communicator, the frustration when someone doesn’t understand her is high. After a few attempts, she will now take my hand and say, ‘fofow me’, leading me over to the situation or object she’s trying to talk about.Good to know she has some basic problem solving skills.

The most amusing exchanges we have are about the lights. She has ‘off’ and ‘on’ the wrong way around. So we go into her dark bedroom and she says ‘oh no, turn lights off!’. I say, ‘they are off,’ and she gets pissed. ‘No! Turn off.’ If I keep insisting the lights are off she will go into a melt down. Not sure how she got this backwards, but seems like it could be a while before she agrees that off is off.

quirkytailesIt reminds me of the Paul Jennings short story in his book Quirky Tails, No Is Yes, where reclusive a father teachers his daughter the opposite meaning for many words, so she calls salt sugar, etc. In the end of the story the house catches fire and the fire service arrive to rescue the inhabitants. They pull the girl out first and ask her, ‘Is anyone else in the house?’ She of course says ‘no’ because her father is in there.

I am hopeful that Bitti’s on/off meaning mix up won’t have such fatal consequences!

 

‘What’s that?’, and other ways to learn about the world

Straight up, apologies that I have been so slack with this blog. Life has been keeping me at a steady clip, but that doesn’t mean there have been fewer observations to record about Bitti’s language use and development—she has been talking more and more, and acquires new words at an incredible pace—just that I have not had time to sit and write my observations down.

I have long given up keeping track of the individual words that Bitti uses; I would be writing in a notebook all day if I did that. She has no problem with her memory, that’s for sure. I use a word once and she’s added it to her dictionary. In fact, she’s far better than my phone’s auto-correct at remembering new words (what exactly is your problem with swear words, Apple?). In addition to hearing incidental words, Bitti now asks about unfamiliar objects and people too, so she can add them to her growing internal database of the world. Should I tell her to relax, Google has us covered?

Whether object or person she asks ‘What’s that?’. A favourite game is stopping on the way out of the childcare centre so she can point at each of the fifty-odd named photos of the children who attend and ask, ‘what’s that?’, for each one. I have corrected her to ‘who’ every time she asks about a person but she shows no sign of updating her grammar yet.

MrMageeBitingFlea

Alongside her more careful inspection of the world for new objects she can ask about, she has twigged about letters and words. We were reading Mr McGee and the Biting Flea when she saw on the last page the picture of the dog saying ‘Ooooooooo’, and said ‘look, bubbles’. I explained they were the letters that made the words I was saying, and then she started pointing at other words in the rest of the book and asking what they were until I got tired of the game. She still says the dog is blowing bubbles, but now realises that when there are those funny shapes in a row I can interpret them into words. Magic! Reading is kind of magical, really.

 

Joke’s on you

Bitti uttered her first spoonerism a few weeks ago. If I was any good at keeping up with this blog I would have reported it then. But I still feel pretty good about having remembered it for weeks so I could write about it now.

She has been preoccupied with injuries and their care for the last month. Suddenly every slight injury requires a band-aid (I don’t even know where this comes from since I have never put a band-aid on her!). She loves the nursery rhyme where animals fall off the bed and we found a super dodgy (read: ungrammatical) Peppa Pig rip off on YouTube that has 5 little Peppas jumping on the bed; each time the song plays the Peppas are drawn in a different ‘theme’, from Avengers characters to Disney characters (my fav is Hulk Peppa). And she likes to discuss the part where they bump their head.

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Iron Man Peppa. Because drugs.

Anyway, one day Bitti was going on about her sore knee all day because the cat had brushed past it with his tail earlier in the morning, or an ant had looked at it or something mortally wounding like that. The 45th time she told me about it she said ‘knore see’ instead. I laughed at lot; she looked at me askance as she always does when I laugh a lot and she doesn’t understand why.

Although Bitti is still often confused/concerned by my riotous laughter, she is getting better at figuring out why I might find a situation humourous. I’m surprised at her capacity to understand implied meaning and abstract concepts. Increasingly, she follows stories with great interest and concern, always aware when there is a chase scene underway in a book or TV show, and worried that the ‘good’ animals might not escape. I worry about the good/bad dichotomy, but I suppose there’s plenty of time to talk about the grey areas when she’s a bit older and enters her ‘why?’ phase.

A few nights ago at bedtime I kissed Bitti’s cheek and she said, ‘yuck!’, and looked at me sideways waiting for my reaction. I replied, ‘OK, Miss Yucky, sleep tight’, and she laughed herself silly. Being called Miss Yucky was the joke of the year to her. Maybe this is why people have kids? So they can feel like a mildly successful standup comic for a few years? But all the subsequent pre-teen, teen and even adult eye rolling seems a stiff trade.

Verbal diarrhea begins

The last month or so has been something of a language boom for Bitti. She is putting together all sorts of new phrases and trying new words and combinations all the time. Most of it results in her being able to boss me around more specifically than before. Because there wasn’t enough of that happening already.

For example, now she says ‘my’ in the place of the first person pronoun where before she either left it blank or used her own name, e.g. “my sit down”, “my see” instead of “Bitti sit down”, “see”. Obviously this is ungrammatical, but she’s expanding her experimentation with pronouns and ‘my’ is her favourite (because it depicts ownership). Eventually I suppose she will correct herself to say, “I see”.

Bitti frequently asks me to see things, and there are days when it feels like I’m in a prisoner-prison guard relationship due to the amount of snooping she insists upon. In the car the other day I found one chocolate fruit ball left in my bag of Charlesworth nuts (I had already picked the others out, of course). I gave it to her and after stuffing that one in her face quicker than I could say Jack Robinson she asked for “more please”. I said there were no more (for once, not a lie), but when we arrived at our destination, the first thing she did was make a bee line for my bag to inspect it, saying “my see, my see!”, because she did not believe me.

A few weeks ago I sat down on her bed to start bedtime stories and she casually reeled off her longest sentence yet, “my mummy sit down too”. It’s so cute, writing it here doesn’t do it justice.

Announcing what is happening in front of her is a chief source of chatter for Bitti. Each page of the books we read have to be summarised in her oral shorthand version first, and I must acknowledge its accuracy, or otherwise, before we can read on. For example, in the story where the kids throw all sorts of stuff up into a tree, where the items get stuck, Bitti says “not stuck anymore” on the page where all the stuff falls down. If I don’t repeat what she has said, or give verbal agreement she will repeat “not stuck anymore” forever. I don’t mean forever in the hyperbolic fashion, like waiting in line behind the grandma who counts all her change out for a $54.35 purchase forever, I mean FOREVER, until she dies.

african_lion_king-wide_1Recently we visited the zoo and I received a phone call when we had just arrived in front of the lion enclosure. The whole time I was on the phone (7 mins, 32 secs), Bitti said “mummy” every 3-5 seconds. I was getting pretty annoyed about it as it was not a social call and I found it a tad tricky to concentrate with my adopted name being called in increasingly urgent tones (read: bellows) barely 50 cm from my face. I shushed her and waved at her with little effect until finally the call ended and, with my extra brain cells redirected back from part of the brain that talks to strangers in a professional manner, I realised that she had been trying to say that it was a mummy lion, NOT catch my attention and/or ruin my job prospects. But, because I didn’t say “yes, it’s a mummy lion”, she just kept repeating it, because I HAVE SPOKEN AND YOU MUST ACKNOWLEDGE ME, BIATCH!

And it wasn’t the bloody mummy lion anyway, it was the daddy lion.

 

 

Colours are blue

Bitti has demonstrated once and for all that she is the sneakiest sneak of them all. Until recently I had been under the impression that she did not know her colours yet. She could say ‘purple’ and went through a phase of randomly calling things that colour late last year. But she had never been able to correctly identify colours. Not, mind you, that I was quizzing her daily, or making any attempt to teach her.

Any time I had asked her what colour something was she would reply with certainty, ‘blue’. Everything is blue. This yellow duck, ‘blue’. That red chair, ‘blue’. Her pink bunny, ‘blue’. OK, not a problem, you’ll get it eventually, I thought. Well, imagine my surprise when, upon collecting her from childcare, I was told that she knows all her colours.

coloursI came into the new childcare room (Bitti graduated to the two-year-olds’ room in early Jan) to see all the kiddies sitting on the rug in front of one carer who was pulling coloured cards out of a bag. The kids had to tell her what colour they saw. As I walked in every single head turned to look at the door, except Bitti’s. She was so focused on those cards. The two carers in the room both started telling me, ‘Oh, look at this, Bitti knows all her colours.’ One said ‘Even pink, none of the others get pink.’.

I was skeptical, because of my experience with blue at home. ‘No way, she doesn’t know them at home.’ At this point Bitti heard my voice and realised I was in the room. Carer A pulled out another card and held it towards her as a test, wanting evidence that she DOES know her colours. Bitti looked at me and said ‘blue’, but then a beat later corrected herself to say ‘orange’, which was the correct answer.

What a fucking sneaky little so-and-so!!!

I spoke to her carers for a while about it, telling them that she had never demonstrated this talent outside of the childcare centre. They were quite surprised and assured me that she definitely knew her colours, not only that, but they considered her one of the better kids at identifying them.

I have since tested her at home again, but she continues to stick with ‘blue’. I can’t think of a single rational reason for why she’d want to hide her knowledge of colours from me. But then, how often is the mind of a two-year-old rational? It makes me wonder what else she can do that she’s been hiding from me. Perhaps next week I’ll find out she’s been doing long division at night, by the light of the moon?

Presents!

Bitti’s birthday is not long after Christmas, so the last month has given her ample opportunity to brush up on present-related vocabulary. Although she was taken to the pageant, she was too young to get on board with the whole Santa thing. He was just a scary man in a beard to her this year. I expect next year will be different and she’ll be champing at the bit to sit in his lap and recite a list of toys.

Personally, I was enjoying the last pre-wishlist year. By age three I’m sure she will have started to become aware of where toys come from and how to get them, i.e. by nagging vigorously. Also, she is as yet unaffected by advertisements so anything she does want, is something she genuinely wants. Although, I hope her exposure to toy advertising will be much reduced as we never watch commercial TV thanks to the ABC and YouTube.

A few days before Christmas she started to notice the decorations everywhere, and point them out. We’d put the tree upon in early December, but she showed it little interest then. After presents started to appear under the tree I thought she would try and open them, but she didn’t. Well, until she did. They must have done some present-opening practice at childcare one day because she came home and went straight for a present under the tree, brought it over to me and said, “open!”.

Well, you try explaining to a not-quite-two-year-old that they have to wait for an arbitrary date to open a present! She was quite miffed when I insisted it go back under the tree. But, after that she left them alone again.

Christmas day she had a few chocolate coins in her stocking from Santa—she had no idea what they were so I just put them away for later. We opened a few presents and she knew what to do straight away, the paper went down and she was very excited about her booty.

By the end of the day she was officially Christmas Present Unwrapper: Expert Level. There were a few leftover presents under the tree and when we came home she ran over an began opening them too. She was quite confused by the stubbie holder she revealed, so believed me when I said the rest were all for other people.

By her second birthday at the start of January she was ready to rip paper off anything that looked like it might contain a toy. She was very lucky and received heaps of gifts, plenty of Peppa ones too. Out of all the present though, the Peppa Pig couch has been the biggest hit by far.

That thing has been used every day since she received it, and on the day she got it she refused to get off it, even for lunch, naps and bedtime. She even tried to sleep on it on Christmas night, but that didn’t work very well as it turns out she wriggles down a lot in her sleep and she ended up halfway across the room.

All up, a successful silly season for Bitti, which she can now forget about completely until November 2016.

Bitti’s bittis

Grammatical breakthrough! Over the last week, in addition to a bevvy of Christmas-related vocabulary, Bitti added possessives to her arsenal. Now, as long as she grows up to realise that these require apostrophes when written down, we’ll be able to co-exist.

“Mummy’s hair” was the first one I heard. But she’s extended the principle to other areas. “Peppa’s dress”, for example. And even correctly using ‘my’ when referring to her own objects, rather than using ‘mine’. I enjoy how these new competencies jump out fully formed. She’s been listening to me say ‘my’ this and that for 2 years, and now she’s ready to start using it herself.

She will repeat her new sentence over and over until I either repeat it, or give some indication that she’s using it correctly. If I am distracted she can say “mummy’s car” a hundred times, just waiting to get the nod that she’s saying something that makes sense. And at nanna’s recently she had to test it again, “nanna’s car” went on to the record player.

And she’s also used the contraction of ‘is’ a few times, too. “Peppa’s first” to describe Peppa being the first one to be examined by the dentist in the old children’s classic Dentist Trip. dentist-trip

Of course this latest development is just another way of compounding her obsession with possession. As if ‘mine’ wasn’t bad enough, now everything can be assigned to particular people with the intention of leaving Bitti with the best bits, or avoiding blame. Recently we were changing her bed sheets and I pointed to a suspicious spot and said “whose dirty spot is that?” and she replied without hesitation “Ru-ru’s spot!”.

Ru-ru is her little friend from childcare who, it seems, has sneaked into her bedroom and made dirty spots on her sheets. What a naughty boy! To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the lies to start so young, but I suppose I’d better get used to it as she hones the art of deception over the next few years.

Eagle eyes

Bitti’s vocabulary is certainly growing exponentially. But the precision with which she pronounces the words is still less than lucid. Here are some of my favourite mispronunciations of hers:

  • bappy = nappy
  • croca = crocodile
  • cuggle = cuddle (best)
  • ba-be = bunny
  • raaf = giraffe

One thing she can pronounce is ‘no’. That little word has been getting a work out lately since she decided that wearing shoes is akin to surrendering her soul to Oprah.

 

IMG_2339I’m not sure what it is about them that offends her so, but she’s become a barefoot babe around town since it started. I’m looking forward to it being over because her little feet are getting trashed walking barefoot everywhere, and I’d like them to keep their baby-freshness for a while longer. Especially since I have to kiss them goodnight…

 

Last week Bitti actually helped me out, using her new language skills. We were eating breakfast and when I got up to wash my bowl in the sink she started pointing at me and saying ‘hair’. I nodded along, thinking this was just another showing off session with a word she’d recently learnt.

But she kept saying it and pointing at me. I went over to her and she finally got out ‘back!’ in a frustrated voice while gesticulating wildly, pointing at her hair, my hair and trying to point around me. I turned so my back was to her and she said triumphantly, ‘Hair!! There!!’.Can-Hair-Ties-Be-Made-Fashionable

I thought maybe she’d spotted a hair on my back with her laser sharp vision and unusually strong anomaly detector. I swept my hand across and discovered a hair band stuck to the velcro of my board shorts back pocket. Well, she knew what she was saying after all! Saved me from walking around all day with a hair band stuck to my arse, thanks kiddo.