Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Words for the Wise

At the moment, each of my five grandkids is in a different stage of language development and expression.  Zoomie still operates at the nonverbal level with the typical peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake gestures.  Beenie voices only simple, repetitious words like "tick-tick" and "uh-oh," although it is clear that he understands many more when he hears them said (like "no" and "cough").

Boots, at 2 1/2, says most anything she wants to but is sometimes hard to understand.  Four-year-old Pooh spews a veritable fountain of words that sometimes find it impossible to keep up with the pace of his busy little brain.  But at almost six and nearing the end of her kindergarten year, Sooby is the one whose creative, multi-faceted use of language is the most fun right now.

First, it is interesting to hear how she couches certain experiences she doesn't yet have the vocabulary for.  For instance, not long ago, she was explaining to me how the human brain grows.  "It starts out as a little piece of stuffing," she said, "and then turns into a pink ball."

Another time she was giving me instructions for producing a glottal click (the sound you make when you tell a horse to giddy-up).  "Put your tongue on the top of your mouth," she told me, "and then slap it down."

The fact that Sooby can now read just about anything has opened up a whole new world for her, but she sometimes finds that world confusing.  Several incidents that occurred the last time she was here illustrate that quite well.  For example, when she saw the word "Master" on the combination lock that secures our yard shed, she asked Pa-pa who the master was and why he had locked up our building.

Years ago I brought home as a door prize from somewhere a rustic wooden sign that says, "Here let the fires of friendship burn."  It hangs on my indoor deck as a motto for our summer swimming soirees and barbecues.

Sooby digested the message of that sign with no small degree of concern.  "Googie?" she asked in a voice tinged with alarm.  "Are fires of friendship going to burn RIGHT HERE?"  Sometime, when you are up for a challenge, try explaining metaphor to a five-year-old.

That same visit included a Monday that happened to be a holiday at her school but not here.  Thus, First Student, Inc., the bus transportation company our district uses, was running its regular route.  As a big yellow school bus with "First Student" emblazoned on the side came toward our house, Sooby's mama beckoned her to the window to watch. 

"Look," she said.  "There's the bus picking up a little girl to go to school."  School buses are new to Sooby, as she lives just a couple blocks from her school and doesn't ride a bus.

The bus glided slowly past our window as it worked to gather speed.  Sooby watched intently, read the words on the side of the bus, and then said, "Yep.  There goes the first student."  I guess she thought the second and succeeding students would have their own buses, all with the appropriate ordinal signage.

My favorite of Sooby's recent verbal adventures happened at her school a couple months ago.  As a test, the teacher instructed the class to take a clean sheet of paper and write their numbers from 1 to 100.  When it came time to grade the tests, the teacher found Sooby's paper near the bottom of the pile, one of the first to be turned in.

There were no numbers at all on Sooby's paper, but she did give her teacher an explanation of sorts.  On the paper, she had written, "I am not going to do this."  How great is that?

Of course, Sooby's mama was mortified, and Sooby paid dearly at home by having to write her numbers from 1 to 100 twice.  I imagine she got the expected lecture about following the teacher's instructions and all that.  But from a Googie's perspective, I think this is about the funniest thing I have ever heard.

First, Sooby's mama was a willful child herself, and there is delicious poetic justice here--but I won't go there now.  Instead, I will just enjoy imagining the teacher, lost in a bored daze of number-checking, coming across this paper.  How many written notes do you think she gets from her five-year-olds?  Not many, I suspect. 

I don't think for a minute that Sooby intended any disrespect.  Reading between the lines of her words and knowing the child as I do, I am sure she simply meant, "I know how to do this.  You know I know how to do this.  I am busy with something else right now."

I have threatened to buy Sooby a cell phone for Christmas so that she can text me.  Her mama does not see the humor in this, so I probably will try to resist that urge (for now).  But I love seeing this kid grab this thing we call language by the tail and swing it around to her heart's content.

In a little over a month Sooby will be coming by herself to spend a whole week with me.  I think it may be time to dust off the Scrabble board and acclimate myself to the idea that, at bedtime, she will be the one reading the stories.



  1. This is absolutely delightful! I love Sooby's spirit and I think she has a very creative mind. I always love reading things like this - reminds me of those little books about childrens' letters to God - funny, heartwarming, sometimes sad...every one uninhibited - like Sooby's comments!

  2. You and Sooby have such a wonderful relationship! I can just see you driving her Mother a tiny bit crazy and loving every minute of it!

  3. There's nothing quite like a language-lover being gifted with a grandchild who loves words, too! (BTW I recommend Bananagrams instead of Scrabble. It's fast-moving and fun.)