In the Beginning Was the Word
I spend a lot of time thinking about language, its power to manipulate or motivate, persuade or pacify, incite or mollify. Oral or written, language is an unlimited resource that is underused, misused, and sometimes used to transform for the better. So, when I read my co-blogger’s (another choice mom on this site) latest piece about how when her daughter finally said “mama,” not by accident while babbling, but in reference to her mother, she described it as having been “called into being.” She became her daughter’s mother. The phrase made me think about the Dickensian refrain, “recalled to life,” and how like Dr. Manette, I was recalled to life for the sake of my offspring. Without language, even though it is arbitrary, we don’t have a way of making sense of the world, or relating to one another. Language pins down our experience.
And so you can imagine the other day while rushing to get my two-year-old to daycare so I could make a meeting, and he is looking in the refrigerator at all his options although he knows he eats breakfast at daycare, and he inadvertently topples over a precariously-opened jar of applesauce all over the floor and I exclaim, “Shit!” and he parrots, “shit,” I feel like shit.
I’ve been trying to raise my toddler to speak Spanish and English. Since he was three-months I started playing peek-a-boo with “¿Dónde está Noah?” And I use “dónde está” for everything: dónde están los ojos? dónde está tu baba? dónde está Elmo? And yet his first grammatically correct four-word sentence the other day when I left the room was, “Where are you, Mama?” Hello? What happened to dónde está? Are you even listening to me? Based on him mimicking the SH word, I guess he is listening, but what kind of selective listening is that? It’s not like I say the SH word all the time, not even close to how often I say “¿Dónde está?”
It’s not that I have any prejudice against cursing, but I don’t want others hearing my newly verbal toddler swearing. My reverence for language is in its power, not in its use, which I can’t control. I can however try to use the written word or my own verbal communication to enlighten or entertain.
I really want my son to be bilingual. I also want him to be a good writer and reader, but other than being an example, I can’t control his proclivity for language any more than I can control the weather. It’s just nice to imagine us experiencing seminal characters together, Peter the Rabbit, Pip, Harry Potter and Jane Eyre. It would be nice if a bedtime story really were a bedtime story and not just another form of play. Right now he has no interest in the story of any given book we’re reading. I won’t have finished reading the first sentence on the page and he’s ready to turn to the picture on the next page.
After writing about all this I feel better. That’s always the case after writing about something on my mind. I just have to pin down my experience. It breaks me out of the prison of my head and recalls me to life.