Apparently, as I endeavor to educate my toddler by increasing her vocabulary at every waking opportunity, she – ironically – is turning me into an idiot.
As I mentioned in a previous piece, my daughter adores the written word; she loves books (which, at her reading level of almost two, consist primarily of about fifty actual words plus a never-ending parade of brightly colored genetic testing escapees). It is not uncommon for our daughjter to slip quietly out of sight. But rather than putting all of her socks in the cat’s water bowl, or trying to eat every single piece of fuzz on the carpet, she will retrieve a book from what I call “the library cart” (a little red wagon filled with books), plop down on the floor and begin to read.
My wife and I do our best to encourage this habit. We read to our daughter almost every night. And if she runs up to us brandishing yet another tale of what I can only assume are anthropomorphized aardvark-clown crossbreeds, we temporarily set aside whatever we’re working on and read to her. (Thankfully, she has yet to interrupt any sort of carnal activity.)
Because of what I can only label her aggressive reading habits, our daughter knows a lot of words. And this is where things get paradoxically complicated.
Certain words, if she hears them, elicit such an over-the-top emotional reaction – akin, I’m guessing, to an opera singer getting a wedgie – that we do everything we can to avoid using them in day-to-day conversation. One of the words you can always count on to turn our daughter into Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween is “milk.” She loves her milk. When she wants her milk, she wants her milk. And if you foolishly happen to utter even part of that particular word anywhere where she can hear you, the sweet child who loves to hug the cats and laugh at The Daily Show turns into a banshee.
So we sometimes find ourselves in situations where you need to use a word like … you-know-what and you do exactly what I just did: you hedge, you weave, you bob, you duck – you do an embarrassing and awkward verbal dance to avoid using the … you know … “it.” And you sound like a complete and total moron. You can feel you I.Q. sliding out your ears. You think, even as it’s happening, “I wish the producers had contacted me about playing Bob Thornton’s part in Sling Blade.”
It might go like this:
My beautiful wife: “Yeah?”
Me: “Are you going to the store?”
My beautiful wife: “Yeah.”
Me: “We need more, uh, you know …”
My beautiful wife: “What?”
Me: “The stuff.”
My beautiful wife: “Crack?”
Me: “No, not crack; I’m not going to ask you to buy crack at Ralph’s. … It.”
My beautiful wife: “What are you talking about?”
Me: “Come here. Let me whisper it to you.”
My beautiful wife: “I’m in the bathroom!”
Me: “You know what I’m talking about.”
My beautiful wife: “Even less than usual.”
Me: “You know, the … uh … the, um … um … You know, the liquid cheese!”
And if you think your wife is ever going to have sex with you again after using a phrase like “liquid cheese”, I’d buy some stock in cold showers. There’s no coming back from a phrase like “liquid cheese.”
But I guess that’s how it goes. The new generation replaces the old, like New Coke or The New Monkees. As our daughter grows increasingly verbose we – her elders – march slowly down the path towards life as a bad Saturday Night Live sketch. I guess, at the end of the day, you just have to hope she has her own bank account and a driver’s license by the time you get there.
(And if you happen to be driving by a store anytime soon, would you mind picking us up some … you know.)
James C. Ferguson lives in Los Angeles with his wife, daughter and a pile of books about a monkey. James’ own book, Context Clues, is available on Amazon.com. And his film, Happy Holidays, is available at iTunes, Indiepix, Cinemanow, Caachi and Eyesoda. (Soon, the film will also be available on WebMovieNow, Amazon On Demand and Jaman). Additional information can be found on the Happy Holidays MySpace and Facebook web sites.