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March 7th, 2009:

Baby (and Non-Baby) Talk

Managing small children is a gene I think I was born without, so it’s as remarkable to me as to you that Carol and I are spending a long weekend in Des Plaines looking after our two newest godchildren, aged 27 months and 10 months. Their parents are taking their first (short) vacation together absent offspring since Katie Beth’s birth in November 2006, and although we were well-briefed on things like which girl got what foods and where the mother lode of baby socks is, we knew it would be quite an education.

Katie is picking up language with frightening speed. When I last saw her she was just discovering the bare bones of complete sentences and most of her words had to be understood from context if they were to be understood at all. Now, well, we’re on the verge of genuine conversation.

Example: Yesterday we were sitting on the couch and looking at the photo montage my mother had on her wall the last few years of her life. When I asked Katie, “Where’s mommy?” she she pointed unerringly to Gretchen’s face on their 1994 wedding photo. Ditto “Where’s daddy?” and Katie’s finger pointed to Bill. The montage is short on recent photos of certain people (like me) and when I asked her, “Where’s Uncle Jeff?” she pointed to a photo of my father instead of a shot of me in college, when I still had abundant hair. I chewed my tongue for a second but let it go; she was born five years after her last grandparent died, and the whole notion of “grandparents” may have to await the birth of abstract reasoning.

So we went on to the other photos in the montage. “Who’s this?” I asked, pointing to a 1957 photo of Gretchen at one year.

“Baby,” said Katie, referring to her little sister Julie, who in truth strongly resembles her mother at that age.

“No, that’s mommy!” I said.

She looked at me very funny. “What you talk about?” was her response.

But that wasn’t the best of it. Earlier this week, just after we had arrived in town and come by with QBit and Aero, QBit hit the jackpot when he discovered a very stale scone that Katie had dropped behind the livingroom couch eons ago. Carol took it away from him, and in a fit of pique he decided to go hunting. We saw him make a beeline for the stairs to the second story, and I ran right after him, remembering certain adventures up there last summer when he had dug a dirty diaper out of the wastebasket in the bathroom and was furiously shredding it to get at the gooey chocolate center. Katie ran after the both of us, and as I reached the top of the stairs and almost had QBit in my grip, Katie announced at the top of her little lungs: “Doggie chew poop!

Except that this time, I had grabbed him before he reached the bathroom, and nothing got chewed. Doggie spent most of the rest of that evening in his kennel, but I found it remarkable that Katie would remember an event that had occurred eight months earlier, when she was only nineteen months old and spoke primarily in monosyllables. (Especially the ever-popular “No!” which QBit can’t say and rarely understands.)

We flew Gretchen’s 25-year old winged fabric box kite at the playground yesterday, while Julie chewed the plastic reel holding the string and Katie chased the kite’s shadow on the grass. It’s hard work, this kid stuff, even for the kids–and we all slept very well last night. This morning at breakfast, Carol grabbed Katie’s piece of toast to cut it up for her, and Katie made her wishes plain: “Come back with that!”
The next time we’re here, well, she may not be quoting Shakespeare, but she may be quoting Space Cat. We’ll do our best to make it so.