Monday, November 22, 2010

How my kids are blowing my mind lately

Last night I was changing Butterbean into her pajamas when her babblestream took on a familiar sing-song cadence.  It sounded something like, "AH-sa, AH-sa, AH FAH DAH!"  Then she toppled herself off of my lap and onto the bed.

"Did you hear that?" I called, a little breathlessly, to my wife who was in the bathroom helping Cobra brush her teeth. "She was just singing Ring around the Rosie!"  My wife had heard it too, and confirmed that I wasn't imagining things.

Ring around the Rosie (which, given the morbid connotations of "ashes" and the communal collapsing at its finale, still creeps me out a bit even though the myth that it's about the Black Plague has been thoroughly debunked) is featured in one of the couple dozen books that the kids order us to read to them every night.  They seem to like it okay, but it's not one they usually get excited about.  We've chanted it maybe fifty times, as compared to, say, No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, which we've sung a good 20,000 times.  But for some reason, it was in Butterbean's head last night.

Likewise, Cobra has started saying "two-toe," whenever she wakes up from a nap.  It took me a while, but I finally figured out that she was looking at a decal on the wall above her crib that's part of an underwater motif in the nursery.  And although the "two-toe" ("turtle" in standard English), is one of the least visible species of critter in our menagerie of books, puzzles, and toys; it's the one she's apparently been contemplating.

Is there any accounting for the random bits of information that they latch onto out of the constant rush of stimulus they confront every day?  Is there any way to focus them on certain aspects of the stimulus flow, and should we even bother to try?

(Lest I come off as overly analytical in my reaction to their recent surge in language acquisition, I should mention here that my heart swelled with the pride of a genius's parent when Butterbean busted her first nursery rhyme, and it melts like butter from the sheer cuteness of Cobra's little voice and the way her mouth moves every time she says "two-toe.")

Acquiring language might be the most obvious sign of intellectual development, and I talked about that already a little bit here, as well as how amazing I think it is that they can attach words to not only things, but also to depictions (photos and drawings) of those things. 

But lately I've noticed the twins trying to figure out something even more basic, yet more complicated than the names of the things, and that's the nature of things. 

Last week, for instance, we went to the home of some friends, and they had a four-foot tall marionette of a giraffe draped over the banister in their foyer.  I thought that the children would really enjoy it if I made it perform a little dance while I sang "The Lonely Giraffeherd."  Instead, both of them screamed and clung to my legs, wailing and shuddering even several minutes after the offending puppet was removed to another room.  They love giraffes in picture books, in (small) stuffed toy form, and even at the zoo; but this dancing toy was somehow just too grotesque for them.

A similar thing happened with a chicken puppet they used to love when they were infants, when  I would use it to distract them and stop them from crying.  That puppet could do no wrong.  But the other day, when I first pulled it out of the bin where it had been languishing for months, and made it cluck and peck at the kids just like old times, they shrieked and recoiled.

After a while, they grew to accept the chicken again, and even gave it kisses; but they will not tolerate much pecking from it, and biting is right out of the question.

And when we went to the aquarium, although they were all over the tanks full of weird sea creatures, banging on the glass and yelling at them, they were very wary about the stuffed-toy versions of the seahorses, starfish, and eels in the play area.  It made me wonder if they lump the live animals behind the glass in with the video images of animals they've seen on the computer screen, while the stuffed animals they can touch are more "real," and therefore more scary to them.

From what little I remember of the linguistics class I took in grad school, there's a difference between learning language and acquiring it.  Acquiring language involves hearing it and soaking it in, but also creating theories about how it works, and testing those theories out through attempting to put words together in such a way as to get your parents to do exactly what you want them to.  It follows, then, that a child's discerning the natures of things would be a process of trial and error as well, rather than a matter of having them demonstrated by an adult.

That's part of the reason that I'm not taking the twins to any "classes" or trying to teach them schoolish stuff, as a lot of our parent-friends are.  The other reason is, of course, laziness.  People we know have their toddlers taking sign language class, music lessons, tumbling, and watching all kinds of "educational" DVDs.  At the moment, however, I can't see any reason to impose that kind of formal instruction on our kids.

I've got nothing against sign language, and it's pretty cool to see a kid sign that he wants more milk on his cereal and a new yellow spoon and a napkin and by the way his diaper's dirty.  But our kids are already acquiring two languages (English and Vietnamenglish), and with their telegraphic caveman grunts, we can almost always figure out what they want. Music lessons?  For what?  Is watching Daddy play air-drums to Weezer songs not instructional and inspirational enough? It seems to me that walking in a busy park is a much more intensive educational experience than watching a video of a puppet counting fruit, and negotiating the playground provides more than enough exercise and coordination-building for our kids.  And beyond the physical world, they have their books, which they devour (often literally) in great quantities. 

I won't be surprised if we start taking the kids to some kind of program or another eventually, but it will probably be mostly for the purpose of socializing them.  But for now, just getting a handle on what's happening around them at home and on our daily adventures to playgrounds, parks, the zoo, and even stores and restaurants puts a lot of demand on their little brains.  And also on mine.


  1. I will never forget the time my husband drove us to a bakery in West Hollywood... It was a bakery that made cakes in the shape of genitals, need I say more? The middle child who was about 2 1/2 screamed when she saw this mechanical baker moving from side to side in the shop... Both kids did not react to the boobie cake or the penis cake.. Nor did they ask questions.. Guess the crying and scream from the 2 yr. old was enough to eliminate any sort of questioning...
    This is the same 2 yr. old that talked 'ewok' talk and the older one could interpret... I bet your twins have a language all their own.., Boy, would I love to hear the convo between them!.

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  3. You really seem to be a great DAD.
    Your kids are so lucky. Makes me think about the fact that i am gonna have kids of my own someday. Hope i will do just fine. I also must felicitate u on the blog-banner(Nice touch,good graphics.)
    Have a good day

  4. I watch my neighbor with four kids ages ranging from nine to 14, drive in and out of their driveway at least 20 times a day, and that is just during the time I am home in the evening after work. When I talk to the kids, they almost have to write their list of activities down on paper to remember them all. I have pledged that with my four year old daughter, I am not going to be like that. If she requests to be in an activity, I will of course oblige but I'm not going to start her down that path before that happens. Best of luck and I really enjoy reading your blog.

  5. Your kids are so cute!

    And let me tell you, as someone who dropped out of a school psychology graduate program on account of the bullshittiness, the majority of research heartily supports your method of letting your small children learn naturally at this age. Their little brains are operating at top functionality with the kind of free-form stimulation you are exposing them to. Forcing kids into formal educational programs too young tends to increase anxiety and lower IQ more than anything else, and educational DVDs have only been shown to make babies and toddlers dumber the more time they log in front of the tube.

    Lazy dad (which it doesn't sound like you really are), I think you're doing a great job.

  6. I guess I would like to add to my comment here that this doesn't mean I don't support preschool and Head Start programs and stuff... because for kids who aren't fortunate enough to have a stay-at-home parent or stimulating environment (which is a lot of kids), it's way better to go to early preschool than rot in front of the Teletubbies.

    But anyway, sounds like your kids are among the most fortunate, as far as toddler needs go.

  7. One year old and not in a 'program' yet? Between that and having Mr Furious as a dad, there's probably no chance at all for those poor little girls...

  8. Refreshing! There is way too much for kids to "do" now. I'll admit to having done a lot of it with mine, but with the caveat of developmental disabilities & recommendations from therapists. They were a huge help for our oldest, and lots of fun for all of us, but by no means necessary for the average child.

  9. My eldest's first word was 'cake', yelled loudly during a meal out when the dessert trolley went past. My youngest had a pyjama top which said 'trucky truck' on it, but then he couldn't say 'tr', using 'f' instead!

    I've been thinknig about your Mr Furious post and some of the extreme reaction to it. I attach a link to a post of my own blog, to show you a lot of us get angry sometimes.

    Best wishes, Gypsy King

  10. Can't believe you haven't enrolled those kids in that Basic Physics/Intro to Latin/Classic Philosophy for Babies combo course I told you about. It's like you don't even care if they get into college or not.

    (great post, of course.)

  11. if your girls get any cuter, I will just die of cute overload. and it will be all your fault.

    I'm obv not a parent, but parenting these days just seems so crazy intense. I was in preschool pretty young but that was mostly for socialization as I was an only child. I was also a Montessori kid so my parents were all hippy dippy with my education. ;)

  12. As a mom of twins, one of the biggest concerns so many doctors had is that they would create their own language. Thankfully, I didn't have that problem but both of mine were in speech and one still is... we'll have to figure out when we will 'graduate her' but she's fluent in what I like to call 'signlish' (sign and english). Her first word was 'dad' only because she still struggles with mom but now I'm 'Miss Mom' because school thought it was important that she start call her teachers 'Miss'. Her brother's first word(s) still crack me up 'Diet Coke' - this is because everytime we left the house (housebound due to sister's open heart surgery) I would take any chance I could to get a fountain soda (caffeine, too)and hit any drive thru I could. If only Starbucks had existed with the drive thru's, his first word would have been Coffee. Good post! Good memories!

  13. My youngest sisters are twins who definitely had their own language. But they learned how to speak English without any sort of hassle.

    It doesn't take long for kids to learn how to speak and once they do, well they are never quiet again. ;)

  14. @KBF--I don't know if they really have a "language" yet, but they definitely are on the same wavelength sometimes, and they crack each other up just by making a silly noise or gesture. And they crack up their parents as well.

    @Mr. Squarehead--Thanks, pal! I agree that the banner is awesome. I wish I could take any credit for it. It's a Peter Vincent original.

    @Ed--I'm pretty sure I'll be able to resist the temptation to overbook my kids too. Hope so anyway. Thanks for the kind words.

    @Genie--Thanks for the support. I realize that I'm really lucky to have the choice of just hanging out and doing stuff with my kids rather than sending them to daycare and headstart. I would never say there's no value to any activity people get their kids involved in. I'm just not going to put any pressure on myself to do so. And I'm pretty sure that we will send them to pre-school when they're old enough.

    @Anon--I think they have great futures ahead of them. Their memoirs will be exquisitely tortured bestsellers. That's pretty much my retirement plan.

    @aimeewrites--If my kids had developmental disabilities, and I had trusted therapists, I think I would be taking advantage of every bit of advice and every available opportunity to enrich their lives!

    @Gypsy King--Yeah, sure. That's why he said F**ky f**k. I'm sure he never heard his old man say it ;). I was not really surprised that someone got upset at the Mr. Furious post. That kind of stuff upsets people. I'll check out your post.

    @DiPi--That's not how we're going to get them into college. We plan on training them in some obscure women's sport that can get them scholarships to an Ivy. Curling maybe.

    @Andygirl--You have to pace yourself with the cuteness to build up your tolerance. You didn't watch both of those videos in one sitting, did you? That could cause brain damage.

    @Helena--Haha...Diet Coke. You should have gotten him into TV commercials. You are definitely a pro at the twin business. Man.

    @Jack--I think we new parents are totally naive. At this point I can't imagine how them talking could ever be annoying. I'm sure I'll learn.

  15. It must be an American thing to put your little ones in a "program". Here we let our kids be kids and discover the world around them buy taking them to the park, taking them to the once a week playgroup, that sort of thing.
    We go through many years of schooling as it is without starting them so young.
    But then, that's just my opinion and each to their own and no-one should tell you what you should do with the way you raise your kids. You're a great dad :)
    P.s is that Anonymous person for real? Vicious indeed!

  16. By the way, my son is home-schooled and he is doing exceptionaly well. It goes to show you don't always have to follow the mainstream point of view.

  17. Honey, you're missing the main reason that people take their children the age of your twins to these classes. It's that the stay at home parent is bored out of their ever-loving mind and desperately wants to get out of the house and see other adults. Even if it involves having to sing B-I-N-G-O while playing the bongos.

  18. @Alittlesprite--Yeah, there are infinite ways to raise your kids, and most of them probably bring about pretty similar results. I'm assuming that the Anonymous comment was a joke.

    @Gretchen--You're right. I didn't really think about that aspect. I have a high threshold for boredom though. And also all my imaginary friends on the internets.

  19. Yes, it was a joke (I knew BD would understand my sarcasm...)
    Not vicious, just jealous of those girls:)

  20. I agree completely. Kids are bombarded with stimuli and in my humble opinion, how their brains choose to categorize and assimilate that stimuli will help them in developing their thought processes and personalities without us mucking it up first.

    Our children will get a LOT of direction and guidance regarding their devlopment as the years race forward. This precious time when their minds aren't directed in their perceptions of the world are more valuable then any baby and toddler classes they could attend.

    Although, a little socializing before kindergarten is a very good idea.

  21. Okey dokey! I'm very sorry I misinterpreted your comment. I apologize:)

  22. I'm with the twins on the puppet thing. Barney scares the hell out of me...

  23. Catching up from being away for awhile...lovely post. Language acquisition is the best part of having kids. Especially when you teach them words like condensation (because you just took the sippy cup out of the fridge) and then make them say it over and over again as a party trick.


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