Parental Skill Sets: Action Interpretation

Our 17-month-old has been babbling since before his first birthday, with the initial declaration of “Hi!” one day when I went to greet him in the morning, the both of us freshly awake. He’d been standing in the corner of his crib, and he gave me a wave as he said it, which made me think that I know plenty of 30-somethings who never achieve the synchronicity of those two actions, and here he’s doing it at ten months.

Emile touching a playground bouncy horse

Since then his verbiage has unleashed on us like a wide pipe, flowing out during nearly ever waking moment. Often the words are garbled or an approximation of the words adults use — his tongue and mouth have some more forming to do, so things like Ss, the “th” sound in English, and words that end in “age” or “ege” are his biggest challenges. One of Emile’s favorite objects is a black spatula, which he pronounces as “zhezhi,” and the only reason I know zhezhi means “spatula” is because he’ll hold up the object and say the word, and point. Yes, I’ve tried repeating the word “spatula” to him, but he has yet to get that enunciation under his belt.

New words erupt all the time, and older, more mastered terms fall out of favor or usage. It’s been two longs months since I’ve heard him say “uh oh,” even though I don’t doubt he could. Ever since we flew back from vacation in January he likes to wave again (hey, a lot of things involve waving), and say “Bye Iy Ee,” meaning, “Bye, Hawaii.” But if I’m not present when a new word form appears or I don’t have the proper context to understand it, we may encounter a language gap. And let’s be honest, there are consequences for such things. “Poopies” and “puppies” aren’t all that different phonetically, but one may cause a parent to rush off to the changing table, and one may mean it’s time to watch out for a sudden canine drool event.

Emile understands that there are words he knows when he hears them, but that he can’t yet articulate. So he will take to scooting off toward a desired location and then start pointing again until the idiot father comprehends. He wants milk (he calls it “mat”), or he wants to sleep (“seep”), or he wants outside. He has no hesitation about banging on the front door with his tiny knuckles, turning around every two seconds to see if we’ve figured it out or not. It’s almost like he’s trying to invite the outdoors in to the living room. This is a kid who loved the lanai on vacation. I don’t have the heart to tell him that hybrid spaces are few and far between in a desert that reaches 110 degrees most every summer. Dry heat my ass.

Today he laid his teddy bear–affectionately named Woof Bear because he barks when he sees it–on the floor in the cozy space between our sofa and love seat. Then he put his head on Woof Bear and closed his eyes. I asked him if he wanted a nap, and when he nodded, I scooped him up and put him in his crib. Then I clicked on the blue turtle light (we now have something like 40 turtle-like objects around the house), put on some soft music, and gently closed the door. Five minutes went by, and then the ruckus started.

Sounds of stuffed animals being thrown out of the crib. Banging on the wall. Books crashing to the floor (his bookshelf is next to his bed). And then:


I let him carry on for five minutes, figuring he really did need a nap. And then I went in.

I caught him lying down, clinging to Woof Bear under his head. He saw me and stood up immediately.

“Daddy, poopy.”

A lesser parent would have wondered why he’d been equated with excrement, but I knew better. I picked him up, confirmed the state of diaper cleanliness, and laid him on his changing table. He gave me a look of relief that I’d figured out his issue yet again. It’s always touch and go with me, I know.

He still looked tired. I asked him if he wanted to try a nap again. He pointed to his crib. It was as certain a gesture as the Ghost of Christmas Future who beckons Scrooge to look at his own tombstone. Fine, fine. Nap it is.

Five minutes later:


I still don’t know why puppies come into the picture, but I checked in on him again. We decided together that he wanted out of his crib.

“Would you like to go outside, Emile,” I asked, knowing he was really overtired at this point and I could maybe get him to fall asleep in his stroller. “Want to go for a walk?”

He raced to the front door and knocked.

“Emile, you’re not ready to go out yet.” Before I could enumerate what we needed for a walk in the chilly morning to commence, he ran back to his nursery, and returned in three seconds with a pair of his shoes and a warm hat.

“I guess that’s a yes,” I said.

This is how my child tries to make it easy on me, finding loopholes and vowel sounds, and all manner of gesticulating in order to get his point across. I’m grateful for his creativity.

I may be a little sad when we have the whole English language to use instead of this potpourri.


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Categories: Family


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2 Comments on “Parental Skill Sets: Action Interpretation”

  1. nicoline
    February 12, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    I’m too lazy to look up the exact quotation, but Libby Purves – my favorite parenting author – said something like “You go from pride in how your toddler is talking to worrying about now that he’s learned to talk, he’s never going to shut up.” I guess you’re not quite there yet 🙂 Emile sounds absolutely adorable and he’s figured you out for a fact, even if you may have trouble figuring him out, sometimes.

    • February 12, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

      He lights up my day, every single day.

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