By Mordechai Schmutter
Now that our one-year-old, Gedalyah, has finally learned to talk, he can finally tell us what he wants. And it turns out that what he wants, mainly, is to go bye.
I’m not sure why he calls it “bye,” but it seems that many toddlers do. I think it’s because sometimes kids think you’re naming something when you’re really not. So they think “bye” means to leave, because that’s what you say when you leave. When my daughter Adina was his age, every time we’d put a bowl of cholent on her tray, we’d tell her it was hot, and consequently, she would eat it up and say, “More hot.” Similarly, Gedalyah thinks that a phone is called a “hi” because that’s the first thing we say after we pick it up. Of course, by that logic, a chair should be called an “UUuuhhh!” And getting up should be called “OOoooyy!”
But Gedalyah loves to go bye. He doesn’t actually care where he goes, either. He doesn’t have any commitments, really. I think he figures that as long as he’s bye, we can’t put him in for a nap. So several times a day, he pauses in his quest to touch absolutely everything in the house to come up to us and ask, “Bye?” in case we were considering going bye but forgot to mention it. Another way he lets us know he wants to go bye is by bringing us his coat. Even when it’s like 90 degrees out.
And there’s no point in arguing with him about it either, because he doesn’t know many words. We can say, “We’re not going bye. We went bye this morning, and you’re going bye later with Mommy so she can buy shoes.” And he hears, “Noise noise noise BYE. Noise noise BYE noise noise, noise noise noise BYE noise noise MOMMY noise noise noise BYE SHOES.” And after that whole speech, he looks at us and goes, “Bye?” Like, “I didn’t get all that, but I definitely heard bye.” And then he gets his coat.
I don’t know for sure that he doesn’t understand anything, though. We actually think he does. With most of our other kids, we figured that they understood everything when they started disappearing every time we mentioned the word “bath.” Gedalyah actually likes baths, and he requests them almost as often as he requests to go bye. His idea of a perfect day is, if it would be possible, to go bye IN the bath.
Maybe he’s just picked up certain words. Kind of like when you’re in a foreign country, and someone comes over and says, “SEÑOR, noise noise noise CUIDADO, noise noise noise AUTO, noise noise noise DINERO,” and you have to piece together what you did understand and try to figure out whether he’s asking for directions or you’re being mugged.
He doesn’t have a lot of words, though. Sometimes he goes, “Mommy!” and I go “What?” Because whenever my wife’s not in the room, I’m Mommy. But I don’t know why I ask “What?” because he never follows that up with an answer. He doesn’t have enough words. Sometimes he’ll come over at that point and let me know what he wants by pointing in a random direction. He understands about pointing, but he doesn’t quite know that you have to point in the direction that the thing is in. He kind of points randomly. I think that’s why he misses things that I point to. We’re in the zoo, looking at the bears, and I point and say “Bear!” because “bear” was my daughter’s first word (after which, for several months, every animal was a bear). So I’m pointing at the bear, and he doesn’t see it, because he’s looking at a tiny bird that’s eating the bear’s lunch, and I keep saying, “Bear!” “Bear!” “Bear!” so he thinks, “Okay, that must be the bear.”
Basically, we try to teach our kids, but we use systems that we didn’t teach them to understand, such as pointing. Or repeating. My kids, for some reason, never repeat after me. I’ll tell him, “Say banana. Buh-na-nuh,” and he’ll look at me like, “Stop saying banana! Are you going to bring one, or not?”
And there are definitely words we forget to teach our kids, too. For example, every time I take one of my kids for a kindergarten interview, the principal always starts by asking the child his name, and he never answers. And then the principal looks at me, like, “You didn’t teach him his name?” Of course we taught him his name. We just forgot to teach him that it was called a name. It never came up. So now I think there should be a curriculum of regular standard things we have to make sure to expose our kids to before we let them join society.
Of course, you will always meet parents who think their kids are talking earlier than is humanly possible.
“He said burgundy! He’s a genius!”
“No, he’s not. Nothing in this room is burgundy.”
“Maybe he just likes it in general, as a color.”
“I don’t think he knows what burgundy is. We haven’t even brought him home from the hospital yet.”
“Oh. Maybe he read it somewhere.”
And some parents will claim to understand every sound their kid makes, although personally, I think they’re faking it. It’s a standard party trick. The kid will go, “Noise noise noise,” and the parent will go, “Oh, you want ice cream?” and the kid will nod, because ice cream is definitely better than whatever he was asking for, and everyone else will go, “That was amazing! How did you get ‘ice cream’ from what he said?”
Parents are like that because there’s a lot of pressure for their children to learn as many words as they can as quickly as possible. There are a lot of words in the English language, and your kid has to know most of them by the time he’s in kindergarten. Plus, whenever you go to the doctor for a checkup, he always asks, “How many words does your child know?” even though the truth is that you’ve never actually sat down and counted. So you stand there in the doctor’s office, rattling off baby words and counting them on your fingers. “Let’s see, there’s ball, shoes, cheese, Mommy, bye, car, hug, nosey, ruff ruff, eew . . . Is eew a word?
Gedalyah actually does say “eew” a lot. We let him feed himself, and consequently, we’re always looking over at him and going, “Eew!”
“Eeeeeew!” he replies. “Bath?”
And that’s how he talks. He’s not just saying one word; he’s boiling down an entire sentence into one keyword. Every kid has his own keywords, but here are some that a lot of kids use:
“Beep,” meaning, “Please poke my belly button with your finger; I find that hilarious.” (This is actually an important part of childhood. As an adult, I find that very few people will come over to me and go “beep,” even though my belly is bigger than ever. I think it’s because, at this point in my life, if someone beeped me, I’d probably punch him in the nosey.
“Shoe,” meaning, “I’m sorry, I have no idea where my other shoe is. Can I wear one of yours?”
“Baby,” meaning anyone younger than your child, or the same age, or up to about a year or two older.
“Mine,” meaning, “Can you please pass that over when you’re done with it?” I find that kids with older siblings learn “mine” pretty early on. Another word they learn pretty quickly is “stoppit.”
Sometimes you listen to one-year-olds speak, and you see how they somehow get whatever they want, and you think that maybe life would be a lot simpler if we all just communicated in one-word sentences. Arguments would be a lot shorter as well.
Okay, so sometimes you need more words to convince people to see things your way. One-word communication really only works if you’re cute enough to back it up. Speaking of which, I’m going to go. My son is standing in his crib, and he wants to go Ooooy. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.