I used to have a baby who made various undefined noises. Nowadays, I have a fully functional toddler who can talk. That took some getting used to.
Having a conversation
It’s a quarter to six in the afternoon, and I’ve just pulled into the daycare parking lot. As I walk in, my little toddler girl comes running up and hugs me.
“Daddy,” she yells. I pick her up and we walk to the closest teacher.
“What did you do today?” I ask. “Did you play outside?”
“Yes,” Some thoughtful moments. “On log. I fall. Boom. Hit my head! Me cry.”
The teacher shakes her head and shrugs. My daughter smiles at me and starts another tale.
It started with a few words. Then some more, and somehow the fact that my baby daughter is now a talkative little girl crept up on me.
When I pick her up at daycare, or when I get home, I start with asking her how her day was. You may have noticed from the above scene that she doesn’t always tell me things that have happened that exact day. The boundary between her imagination and reality are also not very thick. Still, I can have a conversation with her and most of the time she tells me things that make sense.
Having an actual tiny talking human being in your house instead of a mewling baby is a big change. My choices of parenting have expanded from stop her or not, to a plethora of conversational options, including explanation, bribery, and coercion. It’s much easier to explain that putting your finger in a power socket is dangerous than having to physically pull a hand away fifty times in a row.
Knowing what’s going on
I watch as my daughter climbs down through layers of foam and rubber webbing. We’re at the indoor playground. It has a large four-story gym some fifteen feet high. At one side is a tower you can climb down, consisting of six layers of foam web. It was designed so a child can’t fall through the rungs. Well, to be precise, it was designed so a four-year-old can’t.
Unfortunately, my daughter is only three years old and quite small and slender for her age. I watch her climb down, fearless as ever. Then, she falls through one layer… then the second and third and fourth. Some seven to nine feet lower, the bottom layer of webbing catches her before she falls onto the cushions at the bottom.
After my heart resumes beating, she stumbles to my side, crying.
“Are you hurt,” I ask as I hug her.
After a few sobs, she points to her chin. “Chin!”
I check in her mouth. Teeth still there. No blood. Just a bruise. I sigh in relief.
When she was ill for the first time, I was scared out of my mind. Our baby had become a miserable heap of tiny ill human. The thing is: you can’t ask them if their ears hurt, whether they feel thirsty, or hungry, or if they have a stiff neck. You just have to watch the signs and hope for the best.
Now that she can talk, we can actually ask what is wrong. That can really help narrow things down, as she hurts herself pretty much every day. When she fell and she only complained about a painful chin I was pretty sure she was okay. No broken arms or legs, in any case, or a concussion.
Talking has some real advantages. Before a child starts to talk, the difference between our cats and our daughter wasn’t that big. Food and drink went in, shit came out, and they like to sit on your lap – yeah I know, I’m exaggerating. But a talking child is a whole different ball game. Food might go in, or a finger will point at it and a tiny voice says ‘yucky, in trashcan.”
Of course, that brings me to me final point.
You will obey
“Dad, shouldn’t you pay somebody to do that for you?” I ask my father. “You’ve passed seventy, you know.”
My parents are visiting, and my daughter is rolling around on the couch trying to explain something to my mother, which is only half successful as she’s too excited to talk properly.
Then she climbs down the couch, walks up to my seat and stands right in front of me. I frown and look down at her.
“Daddy,” she says in a serious voice, crossing her arms. “Now you’re going to listen…”
The difference between a baby and a talking toddler is not just that we can understand her better and explain what we want from her. It also means that our little princess can now explain far more precisely what she wants. And she does. All the live-long day.
As my wife is her favorite, each evening, my daughter explains in no uncertain terms that she will ascend the stairs to her room first, followed by mommy, and finally I can come. When we enter her room, I am told mommy is to put her to bed. Of course, if I comply with that order – which I only do half the time – she does look at me with big round eyes and asks for a good night kiss.
The point is, a talking child is very good at not just communicating useful information, but also the many things they want. Speaking opens up a whole array of discussion opportunities, and my daughter has also mastered the art of not hearing what I say when she doesn’t like what I’m saying. This adds quite a new layer of complexity to raising her properly.
I like that my daughter talks. It brings its own sets of challenges with it, but all in all it makes it far more fun to interact with her. The things she says can be hilarious, very confrontational, and sometimes very weird.
At its worst, it can drive me nuts, but mostly, I find this change very exciting.