Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grammar Triumphant

Time did not, as it turned out, permit me to return to the topic of our resident toddler last night, so allow me to do so forthwith.

There’s a been a remarkably rapid evolution in the little guy’s speech in recent days (or possibly weeks; life has been such an accelerating blur basically ever since he was born that it hardly seems worth trying to fight anymore), a quantum leap forward, a watershed, a sea change, however you want to demarcate it. One day he was perfectly content to speak in single words, pointing at things and naming them. Then he got into differentiating things with a single modifier – he could pick up one of my shoes and say “Daddy’s shoe”. Sometimes he would sneak in some verbs that essentially narrated what he was doing, but it was all still a hyper-efficient way of communicating. He struggled with pronouns, mixing up “me” and “you” pretty regularly, so he would skip them, also presumably in the interest of efficiency. Fair enough.

Somehow he blasted right into complete sentences this month. The other night when he and I got home from his daycare, the whistle of the train going through town came to us in the garage. Little guy stopped to listen for a second, and I waited for him to say “Choo-choo!” Except what he said after a moment was, “I can hear the choo-choo!” Just like that, he was using the proper first-person and not referring to himself by name, he was putting together subject-predicate-object, utilizing articles. But I have to admit, as my sentence-diagramming heart was bursting with pride, the thing that really got to me was “can”. Not “I hear the choo-choo” but “I can hear the choo-choo” which (though I may be overthinking, heaven forfend) implies a certain self-awareness, not simply stating what’s happening but tapping into an understanding of things which are noteworthy because of the realization of a not-always-constant possibility …

OK, no question, I’m totally overthinking it. But it was pretty cool.

Commence searching for a real set of alpha-blocks that includes parentheses ... NOW.
Of course, there’s two sides to everything, and although very little in the great wide world makes a mega-verbal person like me happier than a glimpse at my child’s emerging verbal command, I see the downside, too. Specifically that this expressive breakthrough comes along hand-in-hand with the little guy’s most precocious displays of early two-year-old-hood to date, specifically a severe case of bossiness. There is a subtle yet profound difference between a small child saying “Yogurt?” and the same child very clearly saying “I want yogurt!” (The difference, of course, is that in the first case the grown-up can feign ignorance and reply “Yogurt? What yogurt? Where’s the yogurt? Yogurt is nice, isn’t it?” etc. Responding like that to a single-word query is disingenuous; responding in the same fashion to an unmistakable demand is just plain mean.)

So my wife and I find ourselves emphasizing manners like never before, not to mention being frequently surprised by the specificity of our child’s vision of how the world around him is supposed to be managed, because he informs us in what you have to acknowledge now are no uncertain terms. If we have brought forth a future world-conqueror, there’s a very good chance he is going to organize humanity into submission.

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