It’s an unfortunate blip within human evolution that children aren’t born with the immediate ability to speak. Admittedly it would probably freak you out at first if, as a newborn emerged from between its mother’s legs, it turned around and gave the honest assessment “Well that was pretty disgusting, wasn’t it?” However, it would be a hell of a lot easier than what most new parents resort to; that is, sitting there like sleep deprived enigma code breakers trying to decipher what the baby wants based purely on the tone and affliction of the cry.
Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world. If we did, they’d also be able to change their own nappies and make cups of tea. In truth, there is a huge amount of pleasure to be had in observing them explore, grasp and understand language. Like the first time Lyla looked up at me and knowingly pronounced me “daddy”. My heart melted and I beamed with the pride that my little girl knew I was her daddy. However, this fatherly euphoria was short lived as she proceeded to declare the Tesco deliveryman her daddy followed by Jeff our elderly next-door neighbour and a Jehovas witness who on the positive side hasn’t rung our doorbell since. All of this has left me with the unenviable predicament of having to decide whether my child is a compulsive liar or my wife’s a bit of a slag.
When it comes to learning words that are largely irrelevant in everyday conversation with adult humans, Lyla truly excels. Should there ever be a profession that requires the accurate naming of animals and uncanny replication of their noises, she’s your girl. If one day they created a degree at Oxford which necessitated an in depth knowledge of basic shapes and primary colours, a first will be guaranteed. And, were the Chancellor of the Exchequer in need of someone with the ability to count up to ten while mysteriously omitting the number seven on every occasion, they should look no further. However, beyond animals, colours, shapes, numbers and the compulsory word in every toddler vocabulary - 'No', understanding what the jabbering little alien is going on about has proved more challenging.
There are certain words and names for things that Lyla has contemplated and decided are not quite working for her. Take the iPad for example. Apple have spent millions on research, development and marketing over probably a decade to ensure that the iPad is one of the most universally recognised products in existence. Unfortunately, toddler brand specialist Lyla Harris begs to differ. So thanks to Lyla’s unofficial trade mark change the iPad is now known in our house as the ‘Pickle’. We literally have no idea why our child has chosen to name an electronic device after a condiment. What we do know is that the poor little thing was force fed Cheese and Branston sandwiches for almost a month until we explained to the baffled child minder what she was actually whinging for.
Another speech based issue we have is the mispronunciation of words. More specifically it’s words that emerge from Lyla’s mouth sounding distinctly like rude words. Now, admittedly I used to find it hilarious hearing a little person say something rude or inappropriate. That hilarity quickly passed as soon as I spawned a tiny parrot of my own. So, I have made a concerted effort to keep what is a largely profanity based vocabulary outside the house. As a result, my work colleagues probably think I have turrets but at least my daughter doesn’t have a potty mouth. Until recently that was. First she wanted “Boobies” after her dinner. Don’t we all, I thought before realising she actually meant ‘Blueberries’. Then there was the request for “dick” which is actually ‘stick’ and “cock” by which she meant ‘clock’. However, the most puzzling one occurred when I came downstairs to give her breakfast one Sunday morning. I heard Lyla in the other room repeatedly saying “titty, titty, titty”. My initial terrified thought was that I’d forgotten to delete the browsing history on the computer and the little rascal had rumbled me. Fortunately this wasn’t the case and I tried in vain to figure out what on earth she meant. In an act of desperation I even got milk out of the fridge in case ‘titty’ was some kind of nostalgia for breast-feeding. Out of ideas, I had to wake the toddler whisperer up form her lie in to find out what the bloody hell ‘titty’ was in Lyla land. Treated with disdain for disturbing her and like an idiot for not solving the simple conundrum myself, George grunted, “obviously she wants her ‘Hello Kitty’ toy”. Obviously.
Finally and a slightly more problematic nuance in Lyla’s linguistic development has been a selection of words that she interprets differently to their commonly acknowledged meaning.
A couple of weeks back George shouted from the kitchen an offer of a cup of coffee. As yelling between rooms in the accepted method of communication in most family homes, I loudly replied that I’d rather pour myself a whisky. Then all hell broke loose.
“Whisky” requested a little voice, as she took a break from trying to shove as many pieces of lego as she could down the back of the sofa.
“You don’t want Whisky,” I said, trying to nip this in the bud quickly, “ You don’t even know what whisky is.”
“Whisky” came the immediate response followed by puppy dog eyes.
“No” I replied using the parental soft ‘no’ trying to keep tantrum potential to a minimum. “Whisky is only for daddies. When you’re a daddy you can have whisky”.
“Good girl for saying please but you still can’t have whisky no matter how polite you are. How about a carrot?”
The old vegetable-alcohol switchero did not go down well to say the least. Feet started stamping, tears began streaming and then came the deafening shrill of “WHISKEEEEEEEEEY”.
The ferociousness of the scream and the bizarre nature of the request coming from a toddler’s voice was enough to prize George away from a hard earned cup of peppermint tea.
“What’s wrong Lyla?” she asked sympathetically, kneeling down to provide a comforting hug.
With bottom lip firmly placed above top and whimpering for full effect she said, “want Whisky”.
George, being more in tune with the mind of a toddler than I, quickly deduced that what Lyla thinks whisky is and what whisky actually is may be two very different things. So she asked Lyla to show her where the whisky is kept. Head down and moping she led us into the kitchen. Pointing up at the biscuit cupboard she enthusiastically begged “Whisky! Whisky!”
Thankful that our toddler doesn’t actually have a drinking problem, George explained that it’s pronounced biscuit and proceeded to treat Lyla to a couple of Cadburys chocolate animal crackers. With crumbs all over her lap and chocolate plastered across her face, Lyla turned to us with a huge celebratory chuckle and said “yummy Whisky”.
I guess that with all the language to absorb at that age, it’s no surprise that some words get made up, some mixed up and some just come out wrong. The only concern is what the other parents will think when my child will be the only one at birthday parties demanding Whisky, Boobies and Titty.
They’ll rightly think she takes after her father.
(See video in previous post)