Toddle

by Gordon MacDiarmid

Toddle 3
Toddle The Pictures

Toddle is an Onomatopoeia

I had no moral responsibility to the boy, other than the one taken on as a babysitter. This mainly required that I feed and change him regularly, and not allow him to fall in the pool, run with scissors or be eaten by a pack of wild dogs. The usual stuff Mommies worry about.

This particular instance, Austin and I traversed the great sea of concrete to visit the Aquarium. (What? ..in the desert?) His bottle firmly stuck in his face, he giggled and flirted with me all the way there.

Outside the aquarium, is a botanical garden

Being One-and-a-half, the world is experienced as a mystery, by all the senses. This generally applies to anything about the face of the 18 month old and particularly applies to the mouth and nose. It should be noted that there seems to be a set order of orifices, that being; mouth, nose, ears, etc.

Anyway, Austin toddled off over the lawn in search of new and colorful things to eat. We had lately been working on languages and though he only rarely utters full words, his intonation and inflection are brilliant. Great-Grandma maintains that he will never learn to speak if everybody keeps handing him stuff when he grunts. She is probably right.

So Austin grabbed the nastiest, brownest looking weed, with big sticker-kinda-looking thingies on it and looked at me.

"Ma-oo-um-aa?" he uttered, holding the pollen laden, dirt-encrusted weed just beyond my reach. Though the phonemes were meaningless to me, the tone was clear. It was the tone Marsha Mason used in The Goodbye Girl when she said "Because I'm the Mommy, that's why." Except Austin was telling me, "I've already looked at this wonderful and mysterious object, now I must put it in my mouth."

Perhaps now would be a good time to bring up some painfully technical stuff. It is a known fact that a baby's synapses work much faster than an adult Uncle's. Small children also have a gift for being 4 inches beyond ones reach at any given time. I should also mention that the laughter of children is the finest sound in the universe.

Aging Uncle made a grab for the weed and managed to get all of it away from incredibly agile toddler's mouth and most of it out of his hand. The remainder, of course, went directly into his nose. A look of astonishment overcame his face and metamorphosed into and aura of distaste mixed with intense concentration. Dear Austin removed the tendril of weed from his left nostril. He looked at it, he looked at me. He raised his eyebrows, said "Uh-oh" and sneezed.

I don't recall hearing him sneeze before, although I'm sure he must have. In either case, Austin thought this at once hilarious and mystifying, so much that he tried it again. Fortunately, even aging Uncle's can move fast enough for that. As soon as the giggle wore off that, he toddled off toward a tree to investigate. Using a slight rising intonation he said, "Da-dar?" Meaning of course, would you be kind enough to lift me up there.

It was a new tree for Austin, It was a Wisteria bush, but we had not got that far, botanically speaking. To our surprise and delight, a hummingbird popped up over the bush, and hovered directly in front of Austin. After a long, slow intake of breath he began with "oooh!" and then giggled contagiously.

Did I mention that the laughter of children is the finest sound in the universe?

DareDevil-try

It was not precisely a dare, but it was a test. I watched his slow progression from the ground to the pedals; he gauged my interest with calculating mirth. He knew I was somewhat preoccupied with the seventeen feet of bum wipes he had cheerfully dispensed for me, just moments before. I half-noticed his fingers grasp the handlebars properly and I managed some phrase of congratulations.

This is where the average human adult, underestimates the underlying cleverness (or depravity) of the species. I had no idea that this toddler, was coolly calculating my every move, while negotiating a very tricky maneuver of his own.

Poor, aging Uncle, had been outfoxed, out-maneuvered and out-witted by an eighteen-month-old child. He didn't call my attention until he was set. "Ga-Duh" he said, clear as a bell.

We are working on the "Gordon" thing, as well as many other words. It is my considered opinion that baby talk is learned from parents. "Goo-goo, da-da" are not the only times this happens. Even when we teach children the language, we are sloppy and lazy. For instance: I don't say my name as it is spelled, "Gore-Done"; it usually sounds more like "Ga-Duh" which is what he said in the first place.

"Ga-Duh" he said, clear as a bell, from the top of the tricycle seat, where he stood with his hands out at his side. His expression was one I have only seen before on persons about to leap from perfectly good aircraft, on purpose.

Being a dutiful, as well as aging Uncle, I freaked and leapt to my feet. I stopped myself from hollering, a sure way to get him to fall. Even as I reached for him, I mulled the situation over. His manner told me he was seeking some show of pride in his skill and bravery.

I had to admit I was proud of him, I mean would you do that? On a more hormonal level, the kid has balls. However, I could think of few more dangerous things he could have done. Also, irrepressible toddler had craftily maneuvered aging Uncle into being elsewhere while he performed this maneuver. He must have known it would be met with disfavor, and craftily arranged a "scenario" to handle the situation. It was kinda spooky.

I briefly consider all this , then screamed, "GET DOWN FROM THERE!!"

Not really, what I did was smile and say, "Austin" in as serious a tone as I might, without showing alarm or displeasure. He knew he would have to listen to a short speech, and took it gracefully.

"Mommy would not like that at all, Buddy." He leapt into my outstretched arms. After my heart stopped pounding I hugged him as well as I am able, and rolled him on the floor twice. After the giggling faded I handed him his spill-proof, sipper cup thingie, loaded with milk.

He rolled onto Bearfoot, (a large stuffed Teddy, with enormous feet) and deftly worked the cup of milk. I began to replace the deluge of stuffed animals and Fischer-Price DooDads in the toy box. I started philosophizing about the complex range of emotion and reason that was at work in this infant. The Human mind and spirit can be truly amazing.

Before I could turn about to check on the adventurous lad, I heard the creaking of a tricycle seat, and a giggled, "Ga-Duh".

Cat's Paw

Sometimes things are special, other times of course they're not. It's mostly deciding which is and which is not that makes the difference.

There is a tiny white paw, it reaches around the doorframe, and tickles the bottom of the door. This so delights our little man that he must giggle. There is so much delight in this little one's eyes, that it becomes a special event.

Who, in fact are these marvelous little furry people? How did they get here? Are they for Me? They're not quite as big as me, but at least there not so big as everyone else. Can I pick them up by their fuzzy bodies?

They smile and buzz and purr! Austin found time to lay his cheek on these new and wonderful critters, to make sure someone knew how special he thought they were and he rubbed them a little too hard but they didn't mind cause they rubbed him right back, as they had found a new and wonderful creature as well.

Wowie

He caught it. It was that simple. His face beamed with surprise, he squealed, then giggled. Austin looked at the ball in his hands. He seemed unsure what to do next so I encouraged him to throw the ball back to me.

He held it tight in his hands for a moment and then hopped, and hopped again, giggling all the way. He was celebrating, wouldn't you? Do you remember the first ball you caught? I do, I was thirty-four.

Austin is starting to resist authority (good for you). However, right now authority is Mommy. He is preparing himself to be two. Mommy, no matter what she thinks, or how much she has read, is not prepared for the "Terrible Twos". Unless you have been through it before, you wouldn't understand. It's not really explainable.

Small persons, are figuring everything out. An adult already has a book of previously discovered things to assist in figuring things out. Small persons barely have a page of discoveries to draw from. So each new finding is so marvelous it causes the giggling, smiling, "WOWIE" reflex. This, I believe, is what is so marvelous about watching these tiny people; it's the wowie that we loose as we "grow up."

Austin looked at me, hopped once again, then laughed loud. He shook the ball with both hands, "Ga Duh, dis bat" Loosely translated, "Gordon I caught it, I caught it!"

Jack Nicholson not withstanding, This is as good as it gets

Ow!

I had forgotten about it. It was, the center of my attention for a few hours. After the bandaid went on, I lost interest.

I hadn't seen the little fellow in a while, so he did his little dance a bit more enthusiastically this time. Seeing Austin like that always makes me grin the Big Stupid Human grin, a spasm of the face which seems to happen of its own accord.

The result was a massive hug, which I relished and prolonged as long as I could. Austin noticed the bandaid on my hand as I lowered him to the floor.

"Ow!?" said Austin, clutching my bandaged hand in both of his. He pulled my hand close to his face and laid it against his cheek. The look of consternation on his face, brought me tears and laughter at the same time.

"Ow." he repeated in affirmation while he maneuvered my hand for a better view.

I was enthralled by this heart-warming episode and I let him have full control of that hand. Austin examined it closely, turning it this way and that. It required all my restraint not to grab him and hug him until he squeaked.

I was actually wishing I wasn't miles away from my computer, so I could write all this down. Which led me to realize that I used to carry a pen and a pad with me all the time. When I wrote something down, I actually wrote. I used to be a calligrapher, for Pete's sake. Now, even I could barely decipher my handwriting. So, I began to wonder if others had seen the same symptoms.

I say 'began to wonder' because it was at precisely that moment that Austin ripped the bandage from my hand, perhaps to get a better look at the boo-boo.

All I could say was "Ow."

Eureka

It has been a while since I've seen the little guy. I keep tripping over simple things that he would like, thinking; "wouldn't he love that!" and "Austin should see this." I realized, somewhere in my travels, that it was the stuff that I take for granted, that I was seeing with his eyes. I thought about the Aquarium.

Austin was doing his best to take in the lights and the people and this odd building with big windows inside. After he noted everyone in the room, he noticed himself reflected in the vast aquarium glass. He pointed and grunted, for sharing purposes, mainly, but also to get my approval. When I met his eyes in the glass, he giggled and toddled two steps to the right.

Austin reached up with both arms and "Uh-Uh'd" me into lifting him, for the higher vantage point. He was just learning how to conquer gravity for short periods of time and his young mind was torn between the better view and the freedom to run and jump. We moved closer to the aquaria glass and the subtle lighting shifted. It was at this moment, a large Bottle-nose Dolphin charged toward the glass and swerved away.

Austin, whose hand was in my hair, squealed at a pitch that, until that day, I believed was impossible for a human voice to reach. It was something the Dolphin would be more likely to produce. He pointed at the glass, and yanked out a good chunk of my hair. As if the Dolphin heard him, it wheeled about and ran back across the glass, smiling. With an ominous "Ga-duh" Austin tried to leap from my arms toward the glass.

I am never sure, with this boy, if it is instinct or cleverness. His leap at the glass was his way of moving us as a unit. He had figured, long ago, that Big Folks would do their level best to prevent him from leaping out of their arms. It was an excellent way to get where he wanted to go.

I was sort of fascinated as I watched his face change. The determined look of mastery as he practiced his jumping, the flash of excited enthusiasm as he checked out all the new people, and the awed look of surprise and discovery as the Dolphin rushed at him. I think the latter "Eureka" expression is my favorite; although his expression, just before he hugs you is pretty special, too.

When you begin to feel jaded, go get a kid to show him something new.

Primal Sounds

It is just a theory. If you think about it, it may make sense to you.

Huh, is a primal sound. Huh is what comes out when you contract your diaphragm in a particular way. The same way you contract it when you are mildly bemused, mildly confused, or very mildly surprised. Huh can be inflected in a variety of ways, but that all takes place in the upper respiratory system.

 

Miriam Webster says:
Huh used to express surprise, disbelief, or confusion, or as an inquiry inviting affirmative reply
Pronunciation: a grunt articulated as a syllabic m or n with a voiceless onset, or as the syllable 'h& or 'h&n, often ending in a glottal stop, and uttered with a range of intonations; often read as 'h&
Function: interjection
Etymology: imitative of a grunt
Date: 1608

 

Ah well, I liked my explanation better, but Webster is more accurate. In any case, Huh is a simple grunt that hit the big time. Ow is another example. It is an articulation of the facial expression one creates after smashing one's thumb with a hammer. It's cousins, ouch and owie are extensions of the root sound. This is the basis of human language.

Human languages evolve and devolve, in direct proportion to the level of literacy of the users. This could explain why TV journalists use a vocabulary of around 600 words.

I watched our young hero, as he pushed his food around his plate (high chair, floor, his hair and eyes, his mommy's hair, etc.). He had no interest in eating, he was sick.

Here was a lesson in the devolution of language. Austin knew many words, now. His pronunciation was getting clear and he was joining (or compounding) words. For 19 months, this was advanced. But Austin wasn't talking much today. He was reverting to primal sounds. Each time mommy moved the spoon toward his mouth he cried, "Ehhhhhhhhhhhh" with a falling, siren-like inflection. It was almost like moving a belt buckle toward a metal detector and away, toward and away.

When he saw something he wanted he cried, "Ahhhhh" with a rising inflection. His illness had reduced him to two of the first primal sounds, "Ah" and "Eh". All other primal sounds spring from these two.

Austin was not too sick for horsy rides around the Thanksgiving table. He was not too sick to walk around the pool with his hand in mine, squealing and giggling, with a quick stop to hop a couple of times. He was well enough to utter the best of the primal sounds, the laughter of a child.

 

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revised: 2004.11.16

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