About 15 years ago, wife Brenda sat up in bed at 4 a.m. and announced, “I’m quitting the management job, and I want to have a baby.” It was a good plan all around. Brenda never was management material. In management, you have to tell the same people the same things every day until you go full-out crazy. That’s not Brenda’s style. She’s more the listen-up-because-I’m-only-going-to-say-this-once type. As far as the notion of having a baby, I was all for it. Then, as now, Brenda was excellent mother material. So I held up my end of the baby deal, with enthusiasm. Daughter Jess joined the family 10 months later.
About nine months after that, Jess said her first word, which, of course, was, “Daddy.” A week or two later, she called Brenda “Mom-mom.” Soon after Jess named us, she got busy on creating her very own language. For instance, as a toddler, she invented the verb “hoju.” That came from Brenda and me holding out our arms and asking Jess, “You want me to hold you?” To Jess, “hoju” was the act of getting picked up, hugged and carried around on my chest or Brenda’s hip. Every day, Jess would toddle up to one of us, reach up and say, “Hoju, hoju,” until she got picked up.
When we fed Jess, we’d ask, “Do you want some?” Soon after, all foods and drinks were “some” to Jess. Whenever she was hungry, she’d lock eyes with one of us and say, “Some? Some?”
When I was outside, I liked to ride Jess around on my shoulders. I’d put her up there, fix her legs so they straddled my neck and grab ahold of her ankles. She’d grab two handfuls of my hair, and off we’d go. We didn’t do this inside, though, because I’m taller than the standard 6-foot, 8-inch door frame when I’ve got a baby on my neck. I learned that the hard way, and I’m lucky the government didn’t send somebody to take my bruise-headed baby. Anyhow, Jess enjoyed all but one shoulder ride. She came up with a better name for shoulders, though. For the first three years of her life, Jess asked many times to “ride on Daddy’s holders.”
As her vocabulary expanded, Jess decided that “P” was the finest of the consonants and deserved more exposure. There was a long stretch when she liked to play with palloons, eat pananas and play a little puitar.
Now, before I go any further, let me tell you new parents something: Videotape your kid while the kid is an infant and toddler. When you watch the videos years later, you’ll learn that all those early coos and random vocalizations were proto-words, which actually meant something. You’ll understand what your kid was saying when she was 9 months old. It’s great fun.
Oh, before I leave the subject of videotaping: Do all your taping at your own house. Don’t bring the video camera to every dance recital, play, party and sporting event. That’s unforgivably vain. Worse yet, you get all in the way when you stand up in the aisle or park yourself behind home plate. Believe me, obsessive videotapers kill a whole lot of fun for people who want to watch their kids. I’m amazed that I have to explain this.
When Jess was about 5, she started arguing with me about words. For instance, she told me that my pickup truck was really a holder truck. “It duzzint pick up anything, Dad,” she said in her over-enunciated kindergarten accent. “It just holds things.” Jess still has the kindergarten accent, which, oddly, has no “uh” sound. Jess and most other kids at her school say they didint, wouldint and couldint do something. Their shirts have buttins. That big grey animal at the zoo is an elephint. And when they sing the national anthem, they sing of the perolis fight.
When Jess was 6, she turned quotable. She adapted the “box of chocolates” line from Forrest Gump. “Life is like a box of Nerds,” she said. “Sometimes you get some red ones on the green side, and some green ones on the red side.” In fifth grade, she turned a little cynical. “I had a perfectly good life,” she sighed, “before I ever heard of latitude and longitude.” Soon after, she went logical. At a mall, Jess spotted a sign that read: Dippin’ DotsIce Cream of the Future. “How stupid is that?” she said. “It’s not the ice cream of the future. It’s here now!”
These days, she’s quotable, cynical and logical. Last week, she heard somebody use the term “head over heels.” She rolled her eyes and said, “Isint your head always over your heels? If somebody went around with his heels over his head, that would be news.”