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09/12/2006

More water please

September in New England means cool weather. As our neighbors shut down their pool for the season, we drain and hide our little aquatic play table (somehow the idea of Charlie soaking himself and us to the skin with 55-degree water — that's minus nine celsius for you metric folks — just wasn't attractive). So the last time Charlie went out on the deck, he picked up his lonely, left-behind watering can, carried it over to his high-and-dry Godzilla doll, and spoke the title of this post.

Every time I hear Charlie pick up a new word or phrase, I'm astounded not just by him, but by the amazing complexity of language and the the near-miraculous way that kids manage to pick it up  and to make sense of the hash that is adult conversation. Sometimes we put his shoes on, sometimes we put on his shoes. He likes to take a nap, we like to take a picture of him. He takes a ride in a car.  Dogs bark. Trees have bark. Trees are made of wood. Would Charlie like a cracker? It won't be our turn to turn until the light turns green.

Sometimes I'm surprised he doesn't start screaming in frustration: "Use the same damn words when you're saying the same thing! Use different words when you mean something different! This morning you gave me 'some' milk with breakfast, now you're giving me 'a cup of' milk, and it's the same thing. First you tell me you're making a bite of food, then you tell me 'Don't bite people' -- can't you make up your enormous effing minds?!"

But instead he, like pretty much every other toddler on the planet, just sucks up new words as if he were a huge semantic sponge. Watermelon. Farmer's Market. Hippopotamus. (Then he tosses them back at us in nearly unrecognizable variations. If only I'd paid more attention to those tables of vowel and consonant shifts back in Linguistics 110, I'd know immediately that feces benekeh means fleece blanket.)  I know that Charlie is the descendant of thousands of generations of primates whose lives and reproductive success depended on learning the language of the adults around them, but even so, watching the process close up is fascinating and humbling.

Just not humbling enough to make me fill up his watering can.

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