"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.