Be Careful The Things You Say
By: Ted Peterson
Last week, we took Mikey to the mall, and he saw a cart which was also a toddler car, with a steering wheel and all. We put him in it and pushed it, while he pretended to drive. At first, we heard the predictable screeching and vrooming, and then Mikey verbalized what he heard from us when he was being driven around.
“Asshole!” he growled at the invisible traffic. “Asshole! Asshole!”
As Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Be careful the things you say. Children will listen.”
This is not the first time we realized that our toddler has functioning ears and can recognize patterns, like the correlation between Papa driving and colorful language issuing forth. Some time ago, we were at an old Hollywood estate cocktail party, and Mikey was amusing himself chasing slim young ladies across the courtyard. The house had several interesting deaths in it, such as David Niven’s wife Primula, who in a dark game of Sardines, mistook the cellar door for a coat closet door and had a fatal fall. Our host was talking about that and ghosts he believed he had seen, when Mikey suddenly was at our side.
“Ghosts? You see the ghosts?”
No, we tell him. There are no ghosts. Ghosts are only for pretend. Mikey repeats this information back, but he doesn’t buy into it. 3-year-olds believe there’s not much difference between fantasy and reality. He will readily declare that monsters and ghosts are only pretend, but then he will need a little help with them at bedtime.
The keen sense of hearing comes and goes. Last night, we went out for sushi, and Mikey was excited the moment edamame beans and tempura shrimp and octopus were brought out. He’s a California kid, never happier than when he’s chomping on seaweed. Then, having had his fill, he stopped responding when I asked him if he wanted more. He began playing with my iPhone and his deafness increased.
“No,” I told the waitress. “No moshi ice – ”
The hearing came back that moment by some miracle. “Moshi ice cream, please! Chocolate and stawberry! Please!”
It has been good to have real conversations about what really matters, now that his vocabulary, his memory, and his general cognition have reached a certain level.
We’ve talked about his biological mother lately. I told him that she couldn’t take care of him and keep him safe, so he came to stay with Daddy and Papa, and we will take care of him forever and ever.
“She no could not keep me safe? Why?”
I told him she was too sick. This is true. The nature of the illness is something we will discuss when he’s older.
The next morning, after he had a night to think about, unconsciously and consciously, he verified the most important point with Ian, who he calls Papa.
“Daddy says you take care of me for ever and ever?”
Ian, with some tears in his eyes, swore this was true.
And all was good.