My son is non-verbal, but my daughter is quite the opposite. She says many words. Sometimes, maybe, too many words. It’s been something that has often caught me off-guard and usually lingers around in my brain for years to come.
It starts when they’re little. Sitting in her car seat, Olivia must have been barely two when we were listening to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The two of us were belting out the hits almost in unison. It made me smile to think that my baby was getting big enough to remember lyrics and recite them. Although, to be fair, neither of us seemed to fully know what we were singing.
A-weem-a-way, a-weem-a-way. A-weem-a-way…wee allll bumb away…In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…
Then, in a sweet little voice, she asked a question that started in the middle of a conversation that no one was having.
But, Daddy. Why?
That’s how she started her sentence. “But, Daddy. Why?” She said it like a character in Oliver Twist. I expected her to follow up with an “I’m ever so curious.” Her inquisitive look was adorable, but her question came out of nowhere.
Why what, Olivia?
Why do we all bumb away?
Wow. I couldn’t even think of a witty retort. Adults say “that’s a good question” when they don’t know the answer. So that’s what I said. We tried to Google it, but, of course, there were no results for “why do we all bumb away?”
Her unanswerable questions haven’t always been pointed just at me. As a kid, she gets to point them at the entire world and the entire world is left stuck for a response. One Mother’s Day, while at the park, she proved that in a big way.
The playground was fairly crowded and a boy, slightly younger, was running wild near us while his mother furiously planned out a corporate merger on her iPhone. Or maybe she was just browsing Pinterest. Either way, she was doing her own thing.
The boy was doing his own thing too. His own thing was darting through the park and screaming out “Mega” about everything he did. He touched a stick – “Mega Stick!” He touched the slide – “Mega Slide!” This continued relentlessly. Mega this. Mega that. Everyone in the park noticed. My wife and I exchanged a few confused glances, but no one said anything out loud.
Well, that was until my daughter stood tall on the jungle gym and, with her finger outstretched and pointing directly at this stranger, demanded in a loud voice:
Hey! Kid! Why you keep saying Mega?!
The mega-kid stopped. The park stopped. Time stopped. It wasn’t even so much the question but how she said it. Her delivery was right out of a Peanuts cartoon. She may as well call him a “blockhead”. I’m not sure the boy answered her. It doesn’t really matter if he did anyway. Mega burn.
Olivia’s delivery is the highlight of so many of these and I hope my descriptions do them justice. It’s not just how she phrases her phrases but how she makes her faces. I hesitate to call this her comedy style because some of the funniest things she says, delivered with impeccable timing, are never even meant to be funny. Case in point, talking about the evils of drugs while sitting at our favorite Bagel store.
I was in full Dad mode that day and thought it would be a good time to make sure she was learning about drug safety in school. She confirmed that she was, but then her composure changed. After glancing left and right like an undercover spy, she leaned in with a very loud whisper.
Daddy. Daddy. Did you know…there’s a drug called “WEE-EEE-EEE-EEED!?”
Her jaw was clenched and her head seemed to vibrate with each hyphen in the word weed. Both hands were firmly planted, palms down, on the table and her eyes bulged from her skull. It was as if the word itself electrocuted her. I swear on everything I hold dear, I nearly lost it right there in Bagel Town.
It’s never a good idea to laugh in the face of your elementary aged child as she first speaks to you about the serious nature of drugs…no matter how hilarious her expression is in that moment. I managed to completely play it cool after a split-second smile. Then, just to confirm…
You, uh, say it just like that, huh?
Like a rewound VHS tape, it all happened again.
Yeah. That’s what they said. It’s called WEEEE-EEEEE-EEEE-EEEED!
Same motions. Same faces. I held my collective hysterics in order and managed to transition away with, “It’s good that you are learning. If you have any questions…” and all that. In the back of my mind, though, all I could hear was her exaggerated enunciation and shaking head. To her, it had been a talk with her pop about life’s dangers. To me, it was the day that she nearly made me laugh so hard that coffee came out of my nose. It’s a testament to my powers of parental composure that it didn’t happen.
It’s easy for these fatherly life lesson moments to get away from me and end up in the inappropriately hilarious pile. The day she found out “the b curse” was a big example of that.
It was my fault. I didn’t realize that the video game I was playing had it as part of the in-game dialogue. Hearing one of the characters say, “bring it on, bitch” was all it took to have my then-eight-year-old repeat it back with the same sassy tone.
I hung my head in shame and told her that she had just said a bad word. Realizing the first letter, her eyes lit up.
That’s it? That’s the B-Curse? Is it? I said it? I know the B-Curse now?
Reluctantly I confirmed it. She repeated this newfound knowledge back to herself.
Wow. I know it. I know the B-Curse now.
I wanted to make sure she recognized the importance of not repeating this to anyone at any time for any reason.
Listen, that’s a really bad word. You can never say it. Seriously. You can’t even say it if you are quoting someone or asking about it. You have to still say “the b curse.” Not the actual word. You understand?
She nodded. I should have dropped it there.
When I was a kid, I once said a curse that a grownup had just said. I repeated it right after and I got into a lot of trouble.
Her expression changed from excitement over her new vocabulary word to a genuinely sympathetic gaze. She tilted her head and, as if we were old friends chatting, asked me:
Was it “bitch”?
What the…?! I literally just told you to never say it!
Her hands flew to her mouth and her eyes bugged out. She contained her laughter but offered sincere apologies through her fingers. She swore she wouldn’t do it again and, to her credit, that was the only time I ever heard her say it.
Yup. Kids say the wildest things. It’s what they do. At least, it’s what my daughter does. It’s who she is and, no matter how mortifying it can be at times, it’s part of what makes her absolutely perfect.