Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fotch Me!

There are words that Moiya either cannot or chooses not to pronounce correctly. This bothers me not at all, as she’s always been very verbal and has quite a good vocabulary otherwise. Some things, like calling hand sanitizer “hanitizer” I suspect are simply because she prefers the sound. I tend to agree and I will miss them when they evolve away in the fullness of time.

Other mispronunciations are more problematic. When she was two years old or so, her mispronunciation of “watch” caused some embarrassment when, in the middle of Wal-Mart, she bellowed (with the volume of which only very young children and jet engines are capable) “F*ck me, Daddy!!

I don’t mean to suggest that her mangling of the word “watch” sounded vaguely like ‘the F word’. No.. It was spot on. People three aisle away would turn their heads and begin whispering to one another.

Heh.. Yes Moiya” I said in a stage voice, “I’ll WATCH you.
By this time, Moiya would be bouncing up and down in the cart hooting “F*ck me f*ck me f*ck me..”

Nobody ever warns you about these things. Diapers, smallpox, child molesters.. these they warn you about. You child getting you hauled out of Wal-Mart by Child Protective Services nobody ever mentions.

I thought we were past all of this until two weeks ago, when wee were coming back from our weekly visit to the public library. Moiya spotted one of our neighbors, Mitch, out walking his big and improbably shaggy dog. So as I opened the door she bellowed “Look, daddy. It’s that Bitch!”

I closed the car door again.

Umm. Baby, where did you learn that word?” Moiya has heard Daddy say a number of unfortunate things, but not that one. Moiya looked puzzled.

“You mean Bitch?

Yes honey. Bitch is a bad word.

But… Bitch is his name!”

The light dawned. “No baby.. his name is ‘MITCH’. With an ‘M’. Can you say that?”

Moiya pondered. “Bitch” she said.

And so it goes. Mom ran into this at New Years when she tried to correct Moiya’s pronunciation of “watch”, which has now morphed into “fotch.” Every time Moiya would say “fotch” Mom would try to correct her:

What sound does “W” make?” she would prompt. Moiya would respond with “Whuh! Whuh!” as they’ve taught her in preschool.

That’s good! Now say ‘watch’”

“Fotch”

I just smiled happily and said nothing. When you’ve beaten your head against a child-wall as many time as I have, it’s fun to fotch somebody else do it.

And so one day Moiya and I were in the kitchen. I was making dinner, and Moiya was playing with the ‘coffee crumbs’. Each day when I take the coffee filter and old grounds out of the coffee maker, I have to set them neatly in the sink so that when they dry, Moiya can gather them up, drag out bowls and cups and measuring spoons and begin to ‘cook’. She makes soup usually, though sometimes the bowls full of brown gruel are other things: cakes, and sometime meatloaf. Occasionally they are even coffee.

And Moiya kept insisting that I sit and watch her play. She does this with some regularity, and it has always confused me. I understand her wanting me to play with her, but just watching her play has always struck me as silly. And so I opened my mouth to explain for the 42nd time that I had other things to do and was right near by.. she didn’t need my undivided attention.

And then I recalled my Dad and Grandfather. When I was a child, to me those men were gods. And I remembered how it felt when they paid attention to me. It’s hard to put into words fifty years after the fact, but I remember the sensation as though it were yesterday. I glowed. When you are little and powerless in a big world, surrounded by gods and giants, having them pay attention to you and only you was the greatest sensation in the world.

But they were gods, for so I’ve regarded them all my life (and perhaps ever more so now that they are gone). I’m not a god. I’m just me. And 'me' is just a screw-up and a failure.

And I wondered, as I looked at Moiya and her dribbly pots of brown water, if my Dad ever felt like this. Did he, who was so like me in his shyness and insularity, regard himself with the same cold eyes? Did he berate himself in the long nights with his inability to measure up to his father?

Did he ever know he was a god? Does anybody? Probably not.

I think that the popular press has got it wrong. Armchair shrinks keep telling us that we don’t spend enough time with our kids because they aren’t important enough in our busy lives. I think we don’t spend enough time with them because we don’t consider ourselves important enough. When we want to show love, we spend ourselves into debt buying things. Nobody shows love by giving things valueless.

All of this flashed through me head as my mouth opened and then closed. And when it opened again, I said “Okay. I’ll fotch.

And I did. I stood for a good half-hour doing nothing more than watching my daughter concoct revolting things with coffee grounds. And we had a blast. Every once in a while, she’s glance over to see if I was still watching. And on seeing that I was, she glowed.

Maybe” I thought, “we can go out later and say ‘hi’ to Bitch.”

Lord, what fools these mortals be

My child is a perfectly normal four-year-old. Which means that she is a joy and a wonder. And it means that periodically she’s just maddening as hell, usually when Daddy is trying to hurry us somewhere. I don’t know what it is about little kids, but the concepts of time just don’t appear to be part of their neurological equipment yet. Tell a young child to hurry and they will – if they react at all – slow down.

So on occasions when we are running late for work/school and I am trying to hurry Moiya along (with mounting levels of desperation) she will dawdle, getting distracted by anything and everything in her path. She’ll pause to study a bug, despite that fact that it is dead, has been dead for months, and the fact that she looks at the same bug every damned day. Why? Is she expecting it to re-animate? Is she expecting to find the face of the Madonna? Who knows? She’ll pick at lint, pet the kitty, brush her hair, dress her doll, pet the kitty again… all on the way to put on her shoes, which are all of three feet away. And all this while Daddy tears his thinning hair, writhes like a child needing to pee, and exhorts her to come ON already!

But really, it’s just pointless getting upset. Trying to get a child to understand the concept of haste is like trying to explain the concept of red to a blind person; do what you will, it’s going to be an imperfect understanding at best.

On this particular day, Moiya was being particularly annoying. I was having a bad day to begin with, and my child seemed bent on making every little frustration infinitely worse. No matter what ongoing disaster I tried to address, there was Moiya right in the middle of it, doing stupid things: she was making faces, tugging at my shirt, crawling on all fours and pretending to be a kitty, running into me and falling down. Finally after hours of this I exploded. “What in the HELL is WRONG with you? Are you out of you mind, or are you TRYING to be annoying??”

And I’ll remember it to my dying day. Her little face just crumpled.“But Daddy.. I was just trying to cheer you up. I was trying to make you laugh.”

I just stood there a gaped for what seemed like an eternity. Then I scooped her up and hugged her just as hard as I could. Like I said – how can I be so smart until it comes to my own child. And then how can I be oh so stupid?

So now when Moiya is being a goof, suddenly stopping in front of me, hanging off my leg,or any other inexplicably silly, infuriating thing – Daddy remembers to laugh (even if he has to take a deep breath first).

Because now he knows that ‘I love you’ can come in some obscure guises indeed.