Sunday, August 9, 2009

On The Inexplicable Humor Of Children

I love you, Daddy
"I love you too, sweetheart.”
You know how much I love you?
“How much?”
I love you more than a rock and a piece of soap.
(much childish laughter)

Okay. Truth to tell, I thought it was just as funny as she did. Not sure why.. it just was. Of course a few days ago, I told her I loved her as much as a rock and a piece of soap and she gave me a look which said “Old man, you have lost your damned mind.” So it goes.

Songs

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress
~Yeats~

I record these things not because I think anyone will be particularly interested, but because I don’t want to forget. Moiya changes so swiftly and already, looking over these entries, I’m finding little behaviors that are long gone and which I had almost forgotten. Moiya no longer sits (or lays) on the kitchen and watches while I make dinner. She no longer has me collect “coffee crumbs” so she can “cook” with them (though I still do. I’m very trainable). And she no longer wants to shave with me in the mornings. Change is the way of life, I know. And I accept that I have to constantly be saying goodbye to the faces she leaves behind. But I don’t have to forget any of them. Not unless I want to. And I don’t.

We do still talk to imaginary people on our car rides, though the preferred cast keeps changing. Handy and Fred are seldom seen, except to translate for Duck. Pirate Dog only gets the occasional look-in. Though Mr. Sun remains a primary character. And Simon (cat) and Wicker (dog), both of whom are real still get a lot of play. There are new folks now: During the winter months, we created Mr. Cold (who sounds like a nasally Lawrence Welk) who is responsible for the change in the weather and who thinks everything can be made better by lowering its temperature. “Hellooo!” he will say “Ah am MEESTER COLD! You need me to make sometheeng cooold for you? Ah can do that because.. ah am MEESTER COLD!” For a longtime, the game was to trick Mr. Cold into saying the word “warm”, which cause him great distress. That was good for miles and miles of travel time, but has pretty much faded now.

And there’s Good Gorilla and Bad Gorilla. Good Gorilla was born when we went past a billboard for the Louisville Zoo. The series of ads featured animals Photoshopped segueing into other animals. This particular billboard featured a gorilla with the hindquarters of a zebra. “Look Moiya,” I said. “That gorilla has a zebra butt!” At which point Moiya began talking to the gorilla.

I’m still quite proud of my gorilla voice. I’m constantly having to invent new voices out of the blue whilst travelling at 65 mph, and after awhile, I run out of ideas. But I nailed the gorilla. Stick your lower jaw as far forward as you can manage and try to impersonate Winston Churchill, and you’ve about got it.

So for months afterwards, till the zoo changed its ad campaign and the billboards came down, we had our daily conversation with Mr. Gorilla, which consisted mostly of Moiya asking him if he knew he had a zebra butt, and Mr. Gorilla expressing various levels of shock, outrage and surprise. Fortunately Moiya always had a spare gorilla butt she could lend, for which Mr. gorilla was abjectly grateful. Occasionally, there would be conversations about where he slept and what he ate, but mostly it was an endless series of different animals who kept sneaking in and swapping their hindquarters with Mr. Gorilla (occasionally with unfortunate consequences. A gorilla front and a snake rear was not a happy pairing). Then somewhere along the way we acquired Bad Gorilla. I’m not sure where or how. Suddenly he just sprang into being. His shtick is (of course) that he doesn’t like anything good, only really revolting things. I’m not that wild about Bad Gorilla, but Moiya seems to prefer him.

My car’s CD player died some years back. Then the radio went as well, and I can’t afford to have either one fixed or repaired. I’ve missed their loss greatly, as one of my real pleasures after our home broke up was driving around with Moiya (around three), looking for cows and listening to music. And I especially miss it now, as Moiya has suddenly gotten very interested in music. I managed to put together a collection of her favorite songs from our Disney movies and burned them to a CD which she plays (and dances to) all hours of the day. Then I had the happy idea of digging out an old, outmoded MP3 player, refurbished it, and loaded her music onto it along with anything else from my collection she fancied.

It’s an odd mix, as besides the Disney stuff we have the Beatles, Queen, and Gilbert and Sullivan. And since in the car Moiya can’t dance to it, she sings instead. So some mornings I would drive to work listening to fairly recognizable warblings of “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” and “With a Little Help From My Friends” coming from the back seat. As with the dancing, it wasn’t long before Moiya required an audience for her singing. And so our morning drive sounds something like this:

Mr. Sun?
“Good Morning, Moiya!”
Would you like to hear me sing?
“Oh, I always love to hear you sing!”
Ok.. .sit down. Luna?
“Hello Moiya!”
Would you like to hear me sing?
“Moiya, I would love it.”
Ok. Sit down next to Mr. Sun. Duck?
“Quack!”
Would you like to hear me sing?
“Quack!”
What did he say, puppet?
“He say ‘Oh yeah, that’s be verra nice.”
Ok. You two can sit next to Luna. Wicker Dog?
“Woof!”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Rrr.. do I get a treat?”
Yes.
“Rrr.. okay.”
Ok. You can sit down next to Puppet. Mr Cold?
“Yeasss. That is mee. MR. COL..”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Um. You know any cold songs?”
Yes. Sit down next to Wicker dog. Bad Gorilla?
“Hmmmyeas?”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Do you sing badly? I only like bad songs.”
Well, I’m going to sing good songs. But maybe I’ll sing a bad one later.
“Hmmmokay”
Sit down next to Mr. Cold. Pirate Dog?
“ARR MATEY!”
Do you want to hear me sing?
ARR. ALL US PIRATES LOVE TA HEAR SINGIN’ WE DOES!”
Okay, sit down next to Bad Gorilla. Bunny
“Yeth?”
Do you want to hear me sing?
“Do you know a..”
No, I don’t know any songs about carrots. But they’ll be nice songs.
“That would be thplendid!”

And so on. Sometimes we have Baby Sun and Mrs. Sun. Sometimes we have Mama Rabbit. Sometimes we have James Bear and Soft Bear. Recently it has included our cat, Simon. The list varies. But it is important to ask everyone she can think of and get them all properly seated and ready. Then the actual singing can begin.

I love this part of my life, and I’m going to miss all this so very much when she outgrows it.

So I’ll come back here and read this. And I will remember.

Daddy, You Are Gonna Be SO A-MAZED

Moiya frequently says this to me in preface to whatever leaping, dancing, or climbing feat she is about to demonstrate. But the greatest joy I’ve had in these past five years’ adventure, what has “a-MAZED” me most has been seeing my daughter’s mind develop. I watch in fascination not just as she learns to do things, but as her comprehension and thought processes grow deeper and richer over time.

People get so worked up over the “sanctity of life”. Ok.. nothing wrong with that. But in fact life itself is common as dirt on this planet. Every amoeba and sand flea has life. “What’s so special about life?” The 9th Doctor asked. “It’s just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh.” As Dickinson less snarkily observes, death (and consequently life) is the “common right of toads and men/Of earl and midge the privilege.” What’s rare in the cosmos is not life, but intelligence. And as much as a cherish and celebrate my daughter’s life, it is her growing capacity for observation and thought that delights me.

Once I could report and record each week on the new word she had acquired. Then it grew to several new words per day. And then, in about a two-week period she suddenly began acquiring language faster than I could track it, in seemingly quantum leaps and from sources which I could not even begin to indentify. Without warning she was using asking questions about concepts that I did not even know she was cognizant of.

And those questions have progressed from simple identification of the items around her. We’ve gone from the basic “What dat? What dat call’d Daddy?” to the more esoteric “Were there any cities before there were people?” (and my favorite, “What do you think Mary Poppins smells like?”)

Some questions betray anxiety going on below the surface (“Daddy, do they have bathrooms in Big Kid School?”) And some – some I’m not sure about. Moiya frequently asks me part way through a movie “Daddy, is this like magic?” which I interpret to mean “Is this a fantasy/pretend event, or can I take this as an accurate representation of how things outside my experience work?” At least that interpretation seems to work. Dr. Who and Disney are magic. The Railway Children is not.

Some higher elements of thought have been there from the beginning. Moiya has always had an excellent memory, and as soon as she could talk we discovered that she has an amazing sense of direction. Even today she can identify places she saw only once in infancy. Considering I can get lost on the way to my own bathroom, this ability impresses her old Dad greatly.

Time seems to be the last real conceptual hurdle. Until recently ‘yesterday’ was used to denote any period of time in the past, from 24 hours to a week, to several months. Early on when she referred to things we had done a year earlier as having been ‘yesterday’ I would correct her. “Well, Sweetheart.. actually that was several months ago.” And she would look at me for a minute, then nod to herself in some internal confirmation and say “Uh-huh. Yesterday.” And it finally dawned on me that Moiya was not misremembering. She simply did not physically have the neural pathways laid down in her brain in whatever segment processes time. Like the book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” it was a fascinating look into the processes of human intelligence.

The concept of time has become more sophisticated since then (though I never did figure out how the answer the oft-repeated question “Daddy.. is it tomorrow today?”) I’ve put up a white board calendar and we count out the days to important events, and there are icons for regular weekly events at home and school. And we (mostly) know the names of the days, even if we are still vague on their order.

Two years ago, Moiya’s drawings were undifferentiated scribbles. Then one day about a year ago, she picked up a form from my office, and when I looked up, she had filled the form in with tiny, parallel, vertical lines. She knew that the forms were usually filled with writing and so she attempted to imitate writing as it appeared to her. From that point forward she would always use looping shapes when she was drawing, but angular shapes when she was ‘writing’. As she actually learned to make letters in school and began writing in a readable form, so also her drawings of people rather suddenly morphed from squiggles to recognizable stick figures.

And language. Always there is the wonder of language. Moiya’s vocabulary is extensive by now, and where she doesn’t know a word, she makes her own, which endlessly delights the Lewis Carrol streak in her Daddy’s soul. When there are tickle wars, one of the places that she’s most vulnerable is her “leg pits” – which is the area behind the knee. And sometimes she just wholesale makes things up. “That’s Bentwancha.” She will say. “Do you know what that means? It means getting your cat to eat her food.” We’ve stopped giving all the dolls the names of the other children at daycare, and instead have begun making up new names (perhaps the daycare didn’t have enough kids).

Green Eggs and Hand
Sometimes I confess that I let my fascination with my daughters inner workings run away with me. Sometimes she’ll “act like a real person” and do things like – I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere – getting all her books together and the tapes rewound for return to the library on Saturday morning without being asked. Or on using the last of the toilet paper, removing the cardboard tube, getting a fresh roll from the cabinet under the sink and putting in into the holder.

One of her chores is collecting the trash from the upstairs wastepaper baskets and putting new plastic bags back back into the empty cans. I went into my room one night after Moiya had gone to bed to find that she had apparently not been happy with the tendency of the bags to fall into the can. And so she had gone to my desk, found the box of rubber bands, and used one to secure the bag more tightly.

After such displays of intelligence, I am completely blindsided when she returns to the real world and acts like a five year old (i.e. insane). If took only a second of me turning my back while we were dying Easter eggs for her to plunge her hands into the green dye. By the time I turned back around she was admiring her vivid green skin, and for several days I was the father of the Daughter from the Black Lagoon. And as recently as a few weeks ago, she proudly showed me how she had organized her room by taking all of the pieces from her seven or eight jigsaw puzzles and putting them all in one box. I have to constantly remind myself that, no matter how excited I get at the glimpses into her expanding consciousness, brain isn’t really dry yet. Perhaps some sort of “WET PAINT” sign would be nice, so that I’m braced for such oddities and don’t hurt her feelings unintentionally by yelping “You did WHAT?

And it would have helped me last week. Moiya has developed a sudden passion for playing hide and seek. Indoors. In a small apartment. And it took me as very long time to learn how to play this game, because I was forgetting that her brain isn’t dry yet. As it turns out, the object appears not to be to find her. She will hide over and over and over behind the chair in her room, where she is plainly visible. And she will continue to talk to me from behind said chair whilst I am “looking” for her. But she usually prefers to hide in my room, which has only a bed, a small bookcase, and a desk in it. “Okay” she will call from under my desk, her legs sticking out. “Come and find me. But you can’t look near your bed or the desk” Which usually leaves daddy blinking in confusion and faux-looking in another room. “NO, DADDY! In YOUR room. Just don’t look near the bed or the desk”

Like I said.. brain hasn’t quite gelled yet. But dear Lord how much fun it is to watch it grow.