On Tuesday when I went to pick up the little guy from daycare I had his convalescing sister in tow and because it was such a mild and pleasant day she was wearing only a onesie. It so happened that the little guy’s class was out on the playground when I arrived, and as I was talking to the little guy (in an attempt at easing him into the thought of leaving with me before the official end of recess) one of the other boys ran up to us, noticed the little girl’s bare feet, said “Ew, she has stinky feet!” and ran off again. I did not find this particularly troubling, chalking it up to just one of those things kids say when they’re in the process of figuring out the world and its signifiers. But her brother became the very picture of affrontery, yelling after his classmate in great indignation: “That’s not true! AND THAT’S A BAD WORD!!!”
The little guy in fact shouted that accusation ludly enough to get the attention of one of the teachers out on the playground, who came over to me and asked in a low voice “What word?” To which I could only reply “I believe it was ‘stinky’.” Which, probably, the teachers no doubt try to discourage the children from slinging around as a descriptor for one another, but I could tell by the look on the playground teacher’s face that she had been fearing or expecting something much worse.
And the funny thing from my perspective is that in the past week or two, the little guy has plowed headlong at full speed into the phase in which the words “peepee” and “poopie” are HILARIOUS. Inherently amusing, and also amusing in the way that despite our every effort to not let him get a rise out of us, my wife and I both twitch visibly whenever the little guy nonsensically works the words into conversation. Most of the time we ignore it, only occasionally letting him know that it’s all right to sing a silly song about a poopie but not all right to call someone poopie-head or threaten “I’m gonna put poopie in your eye!”, but even when we ignore it there’s as often as not a small exasperated sigh and the little guy is not the kind of kid to miss something like that. He knows, he knows he can get under our skin and he is bound and determined to do so. And we know that’s developmentally appropriate and he’ll outgrow it soon enough, and we just have to ride it out.
But, at the very least, it is interesting to see how the little guy has a version of himself he’s building for interacting with the larger world, his school persona who (I’m especially pleased to note) would stand up for his little sister and even call other people on transgressions. Of course there’s a fine line between being an upright moral pillar and being a snitchy tattletale, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. But then, at home with his family, the little guy inhabits a completely different persona who is entirely consumed with mapping out exactly what he can and cannot get away with.
The little girl, for her part, is not so much formulating variable interface patterns between herself and the world, but she has decidedly entered the realm of communication. I mentioned previously that she has mastered the art of crawling up to someone’s feet, hauling herself upright on their pant legs, and staring up at them waiting to be picked up. I’m not sure I would classify that as communication; clearly there is an expectation from the climber which must be acted on by the climbed, but it’s more inherent to the situation than really expressed. But the little girl has added on to this, and now when you do pick her up she very emphatically gestures in a particular direction and makes little sounds with an unmistakably interrogative rise in pitch at the end: “Uhh? Uhh? Uhh?” so that you can’t help but hear it as “That thing? Over there? Can you carry me over there so I can get a better look at that thing? Please?” I think I had forgotten that her brother started out the exact same way, but it’s all coming back to me now. Specifically that I am such a staunch believer that communication, the act of translating our own internal words into terms that other people can understand and incorporate into their internal worlds, is the fundamentally most essential element of the human condition that when my children show the first sparks of awareness of that realm I completely geek out, and don’t mind being completely enslaved by the whims of a one-year-old who knows how to point and grunt.
Also, one last thing on the children/daycare front: the little girl is starting yet another round of antibiotics for yet another ear infection, after just completing the last course on Monday night, poor little thing. I still maintain that all this inoculation via socializing at daycare will be better for her in the long run, but sometimes it seems a bit much in the moment. The daycare center usually posts a note on the front door whenever there’s a communicable disease detected in one of the children in their care, along the lines of “There has been a reported case of chicken pox in the center” or something like that. Yesterday I went to pick up both kids and there was a note on the front door which said “The following have been reported as of today: 4 cases of hand foot and mouth, 1 case of chicken pox, 1 case of thrush, 1 case of croup” which I swear I am not even exaggerating about, despite the fact that if I were going to make a joke about how daycare centers are big Petri dishes of infection that is exactly the kind of gag note I would concoct, with the possible addition of one more far-fetched disease, like “1 case of ergotism”. Because I do kind of like the idea of toddlers accusing one another of witchcraft – if you’re going to snitch and tattle, go big, I say.