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02/16/2006

A little talk

The first word Charlie spoke was, as predicted, cat.  This was a surprise to none but the cat himself, who, when he first heard the delighted "Cah!  Cah!" and connected it with the sudden, dangerous lurch Charlie made, looked as thoroughly put out as Rumpelstiltskin must have when the miller's daughter guessed his name.

Now the cat is wiser and hardened by experience, and knows that when he hears Charlie's cheerful bark, he's been made.  It is time then to scamper into hiding, belly riding low near the floor, rear claws scrabbling against the hardwood, searching for purchase in vain. 

The poor sad bastard of a cat doesn't know that even when he ambles he's faster than Charlie; he only knows that to a one-year-old, "gentle touch" might as well mean "grab a big handful of whiskers and yank.  Go on.  No, really dig in.  He likes it!  Harder!  Come on!  There will be prizes!"

...

Charlie's best word is cracker.  Recently I discovered that if, after his nap, I hustle him immediately downstairs for a snack, we can usually avoid the crying jag he used to have when I simply rescued him from his crib and hugged and rocked him.  (I will not speculate on his preference for food over the suffocating love of his mother — that's another entry and five years in therapy.)  I took to picking him up, giving him a cuddle, and whispering, "Who wants to go have a cracker?"  Then we would hurry downstairs, where he would cheerfully attack his fruit, milk, and graham crackers.

One afternoon, I heard him wake up.  He was peeping softly in his crib when I entered, and smiled at me as I bent to pick him up.  Enjoying the quiet of the moment, I only smiled at him without making my customary offer.  He must have disapproved of the change in routine, because as I brought him up to my shoulder, he twisted his neck to look at me and said, quite definitely, "Cracker."

Two days ago, I brought him in from the car, and stood holding him in the kitchen doorway as I took off his snowsuit.  He looked around the kitchen, homed in on his highchair, and said, quite definitely, "Cracker."

It was the first instance of his spontaneously making a verbal request that I understood.  Weepy, I strapped him into his chair and produced the goods, sniffling happily as he devoured one, two, three graham crackers and half a banana.

I was telling my friend T. about it on the phone later that day.  "And then," I exulted, "he said, 'Cracker!'"

Pause.  Then T., liberal New Yorker who mocks my Southern origins every chance she gets, suggested, "Maybe he was calling you a name."

...

Thanks to the second page of Sheep in a Jeep, Charlie knows "uh-oh."  The premise of the book — and, in fact, the entire series — is as follows: Five sheep go out and wreck shit.  True to form, these street-smart fish out of water caught in a world they never made manage to turn a tranquil Sunday drive into a bloodbath of ovine carnage.  Or, to put it more simply, they wreck the goddamn jeep.

I hope I didn't spoil it for you.

I trust any attorneys in my audience will correct me if I'm violating copyright law by quoting the entirety of page two:

Uh-oh!
Jeep won't go!

One afternoon, I turned the page and Charlie piped up.  It sounded more like "eh-ah," but I knew what he meant because, see, I can read.  So over the next several days I tried to show him what it meant.  Every time I dropped something, I would warble "Uh-oh!" in a tone of deep regret.  He caught on fast, but understands the concept only enough to say it every time he drops something but also when he puts things down voluntarily.

He also says it when he's just feeling chatty.  I think he knows we register it as a real word, that we listen when he says it, that we respond with warm approval.  This is not ideal, because I'm currently stuck applauding him when he intentionally drops the can of beans from the seat of the grocery cart over and over and over.  "Uh-oh!  Well done, baby!  No, no, no, for the love of God don't drop it ag—uh-oh!  Riiight!  Good boy.  Now why don't you hold a different — Uh-oh!  Hahahaha.  Yes!  Clever bun.  [Sotto voce.]  Fucking beans."

Last week at the library, where I sometimes take him to play in the morning, he was standing with one hand on the window seat, bending over, holding a train car in his free hand.  He held it approximately an inch above the floor.  Then he let go, and the train dropped that single inch.  "Uh-oh," he said, and picked up the car again.  He raised it an inch.  Dropped.  "Uh-oh."  Over and over and over.

And a few days ago, he woke me before dawn.  This is not usual; his normal pattern is to sleep until 7 or 7:30.  So when I heard noises at 5:15, I assumed he needed assistance.  I got up fast, hoping he wouldn't wake Paul, and trotted down the hall to tend to him.  I stopped outside his door to listen for a moment, wondering whether I'd need to go down for a bottle.  But there was no crying.  No fretful tone.  No sad-sounding "muh-muh-muh."  No, all I heard was "uh-oh." 

At 5:15 in the morning.

Well done, baby.

Fucking sheep.

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