Rose at 18 months is a fountain of language, spouting nouns, pronouns and the occasional verb. These words spill forth constantly, bubbling up from this little brain on wobbly legs, which seems hell-bent on proving the toddler philosophy: I talk, therefore I am.She's an obscure anthropologist cramming for a test on the natural history of our family. Everything has a name, and must be named.
"Daddy pillow." She notes, while snuggling in our bed in the morning. "Rosie ducky," she announces, kneading her sausage fingers on her love-worn friend.
They say toddlers learn one to two new words a day, preschoolers up to age 10. You can almost see the cogs turning in the language machines that are my children. Col, our newly-turned-4-year-old, speaks like an overstuffed meatball sub. His words elbow each other like cluttered meatballs, and the fancy nouns drip out like so much marinara sauce.
He is an authority on everything.
Today, in efforts to debunk my theory that wet trees don't burn, he told me this: "I've seen a very wet tree catch on fire Mama because when the water squeezes out of the tree then it gets a little hot because the bark peels off because there's no coupler bolts but the roots smell like a smokestack and the tree falls down like this - boom!"
There is not a stitch of meaning in the pile of words, and I wonder if this is how I sound to Col - just a bunch of familiar nouns propped up by a whole lotta nothing.
Rose casts words in the cement of her brain by repetition. Anything is a worthy study, including football on TV with Daddy.
"Dropping the ball again!" Dan roars at the screen. Rose pipes up with her small, husky voice: "Doppin. Doppin ball."
Dan forgets the bad play, but like a nervous hostess trying out a new conversational ice breaker, Rose won't let it go. "Doppin Daddy, doppin." She waits for acknowledgement, needing ever more repetitions to ink the word on her brain's sketch pad forever. "Doppin," she mutters to herself 10 minutes later, "doppin ball."
The call and response gets tedious fast and requires way more parental participation than when we're simply required to be judges on her game show.
The one that goes: I'll take modern bedroom objects for $300, Daddy. She scans the room. "Mommy glasses. Daddy book." We nod. "Mommy blanket. Daddy water." She's on a roll; she's almost won the satin and cherrywood bedroom ensemble. Her delivery is so comedic, the way she parses out the syllables with the seriousness of a kid on the spelling bee podium. She's heavy on vowels, tends to drop her "R's," and can reduce a whole complex sentence to 3 key words. And that accent? Is it Texan? Or perhaps Brooklyn high rise?
It's so elementary, so totally unremarkable, children learning to talk. For typical children, it always seems to start the same delightful way, "ball," and then "dog" and then eventually "puhleeeese can I have that yogurt that squirts out of a tube?"
Yet, we are so charmed! We can't help but gather around her like she's the weird humpback aunt who just came to visit.
We beg our aunt, can you say: "I love olive oil."
She spits a thick yodel, like her tongue's been dipped in butter and honey.
Col's next: "Can you say antelope?"
"Can you say cucumber?"
The house roars. If you don't see our family for a while, it's because we're at home, playing "repeat after me."
I'm still in shock that Rose has risen out of the primordial soup of gooey babyhood into this young woman with 12 teeth who can play repeat after mama, broadcasting my less charming words, like the ones I used this morning when Col wiped peanut butter drool on my pants.
We fall over ourselves trying to understand her toddler-speak, peppering her with possible translations.
"What'd she say? In the grass? Eggy gas? Window glass?"
She flashes her oversized teeth and keeps us guessing.
There is never no one talking in Rachel Turiel's house. Her column runs the first and third Sunday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org