Irony 101 followed by a Death Glare Master Class

Just like when Bitti was learning colours and liked to ‘tend (pretend) she didn’t know them in front of me, she is now pretending lots of other things for reasons best known to herself. She does this in lots of ways but it started with colours. She pointed at a book page and said ‘that’s red’, when it was plainly yellow. Her eyes slid sideways to watch my reaction. When I responded with, ‘it’s definitely purple!’, she was very happy. We can play this game.

Now she extends this deliberate wrong to other objects and animals too. I feel like this is the beginning of an advanced course in sarcasm and irony for Bitti. That she is showing early promise is good, because I’m not sure what I would do with a child who took everything I said at face value.

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See, it’s a giraffe. And she’s smiling.

There were a few months there when everyone was sad. We regularly read a story about an elephant who gets knocked on the head with a coconut and all her friends try to cheer her up, but she’s still sad. After that, she became a pro at pointing out misery in such a delighted way that it was almost too irreverent even for me. But now she can point out a more diverse range of emotions as depicted in drawings, and has been trying them on her own face too.

Crocodile tears are nothing new for those in the under-five bracket, but Bitti takes it to another dimension. She has this menacing stare that triggers memories of Japanese horror films that I watched before I effected a self-imposed ban on the watching of that entire genre in order to preserve all future nights’ sleep. Seriously, brush her hair forward and put her in a dimly lit room and I defy anyone not to summon an exorcist.

Although terrifying, a natural power like that demands nurturing, so I have been training her to whip out the expression at a moment’s notice. It’s a perilous task but someone has to do it. And after all, providing those around you with an easy gauge of your current mood is a community service that too often goes unrecognised. Plus, letting someone know they’ve crossed a line without speaking is a pinnacle of efficiency in communication surpassed by no other. You can all thank me later.

Once we have this one under control, I figure we should move on to the polite smile, just to balance things out a bit, but without abandoning the pretending theme. And, you know, so she can be either a politician or an actor one day (porque no los dos, aye Arnie?). I can only hope that Bitti will have the good fortune to flash her epic stink eye upon someone as truly deserving as Hillary Clinton.

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Bitch, please.

BTW, did you see how I found a picture of a tiger giving stink eye? Did you see that? Did ya?

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Playing favourites

The more Bitti is able to express herself with language, the more I can get an idea of the kind of person she is. I am so used to figuring out her preferences by observing her behaviour and body language that I sometimes forget I can just ask her now!

So the other night while reading a Peppa Pig book for the umpteenth time I decided to turn the tables on her and ask her a hundred and one questions about the pictures. Usually she is the one interrupting me to point out something banal or ask a pointless questions that she already knows the answer to.

There is one story where the playgroup has a jumble sale to raise money to fix the school roof. All the kids donate a toy to sell, and there is a picture where all the goods are laid out on tables. I asked Bitti which toy she would buy. She did not hesitate to say ‘Miss Rabbit’. Now, for those who aren’t cursed blessed with a Peppa-watching child, Miss Rabbit is not a toy, but a character on the show who is actually quite fun. She has all the jobs.

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In every story, whenever the family goes somewhere and there is someone providing a service, like checking books out at the library, it is Miss Rabbit. She works everywhere and can do everything, so I’m happy Bitti chose this character to take home as Miss Rabbit is certainly the most interesting one. Someone even went to the trouble of making a list of all Miss Rabbit’s jobs; there are 34 in total (to 11/01/2016)!

Now Bitti has her head around the concept of ‘favourites’ too. So I ask her occasionally which is her favourite toy/colour/food. The answers tend to change daily, which is only sensible, you have to select based on your current mood and situation. However, the only one that never changes is ‘favourite toy’; bunny wins. Here’s what I got yesterday:

Fave colour: purple

Fave toy: bunny

Fave food: pears

Fave book: Dentist Trip (Peppa)

Fav person: …

The favourite person question led her to discuss best friends for a while. Her best friends change as much as her favourites do. Generally during the childcare week it is one or another of her mates there. Over the weekend it can be her half-sister, her nana or me depending on who was the most recent giver of play time.The affection of a toddler is as ephemeral as it is ardent.

Her best friends are always girls. Not sure whether this is her natural preference or already the influence of culture upon her. I expect her best friend will change a thousand more times before she is grown, and whoever gets the final spot will be lucky indeed (IMHO).

Playing for real

There is so much talking from Bitti now that it can be hard to narrow down just one thing to focus on. Grammar-wise she is experimenting with pronouns now, using ‘he’ and ‘she’ instead of the generic ‘it’. And has even started using object pronouns correctly sometimes, last night saying, ‘you do that to me’. All these grammatical gains are important as she is trying to explain more complex ideas to me.

She is expanding her internal world and explaining her imaginary games (AKA the nutty contents of her brain) to me really tests her language skills. Pretending to be the baboon from The Lion King is a big one at the moment. I have to sit on top of Pride Rock being Mufasa. She lumbers towards me, holding the boon stick and saying ‘oh, ah’, climbs up my legs (in a not-at-all-painful way), and gives me a big hug. Then I have to hand her Simba, an imaginary bundle of baby lion, and she takes him off to show the other animals.

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And repeat. Like, a lot.

This is an easy game to figure out the rules of because we play it a lot. But sometimes she throws a random game into the mix, like ‘spider on the wall’, and it catches me by surprise. She got up on the couch the other night, splayed her hands on the wall and said, ‘mummy, look. I a sisa.’ Hmmm, you’re a what? ‘A SISA!’. Hmmm, I wasn’t getting it. Big sigh. She came down, took me by the hand and sat me down. She concentrated really  hard on saying the words right, you could see the cogs moving in her head as she slowly enunciated each word.

‘Mummy, I a sisa. You put me outside.’ She pointed violently from the wall to the door.

‘Ah, you’re a spider!’

‘YES.’ Nodded her head and began the climb back onto the couch enthusiastically, satisfied that we were back on the same imaginary page in her book of bizarre games.

Other popular games are ‘shopping’, ‘doctor’ and ‘going to bed’ and pretty much anything where I am an animal. She is a baby monkey a lot, and makes her bed on the top of the couch, balancing herself along the cushions, and using a towel as a doona. The mummy monkey has to tuck her in, and turn off the ‘eyes’ (the lights) so she doesn’t get scared. She must be the only toddler who is happier in the dark than with the lights on.

These games can be quite fun, but my opportunity to make changes or additions is limited. Generally my ideas are dismissed immediately, although their re-appearance a few minutes later, this time presented by Bitti herself, seems to be more palatable.

Sometimes the games are fairly tedious, but I have to pay close attention still because the animal might get changed halfway through and if I keep calling Bitti ‘baby monkey’ when she’s changed herself to ‘baby baboon’, there will be hell to pay. Straight to the principal’s office for a lecture on animals.

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.

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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?