The Age of Repetition: My Son’s Abstract Language-PaintingThomas Beller
The boy is in The Age of Repetition. “He’s in the repeating stage,” another parent said during school pick-up the other day. It’s true. You say a word and he tries to say it back. It is a curious and very wonderful auditory experience.
For example, during a shoot-around at the JCC –me and my two children e were gamboling around on the vast expanse of wood floor that is an empty basketball court. This guy walked in. It was my friend Nat.
“Nat!” I said, and then, “Alexander, this is Nat.”
And then Alexander, up on my hip at the time, said “Nat? Nat. Nat! Nat?”
Four subtle – or not so subtle – variations: A questioning pronouncing of the word, during which he always looks at me with big eyes, very excited and eager for confirmation that, yes, he has it right.
But before I can ever even say anything he has turned his gaze outward to the world, to which he offers a rendition that is a bit more confidant: “Nat.”
I always try and deliver encouragement, “Yes! Nat! Very good!” Then I let him have the floor. He says milk, or rooster, or meeting, or socks, or whatever word it is I have just said, five or ten or twenty times in a row. Unless you say another word that catches his fancy. In which case he starts with that one. He’s a talker.
On that day it was “Nat.”
Hard to guess at what moves him about a word.
For example, why Nat. Did he fasten onto it because it is a single, succinct syllable? Likely. Did he fasten onto it because, if you think about it, “Nat” is an enjoyable word to pronounce? Also likely. The tongue up on top to start, and then kicking off like a diver, only to return a moment later to almost the same place, but not quite, now shoved with brisk force against the slightly separated teeth to form the T.
Not Lo-Li-Ta. But not bad.
On the other hand, maybe it had to do with things other than the sound and shape of the word. Maybe he had sensed my pleasure and surprise when Nat walked in the door. Not just the basic pleasure in seeing a friend, but the serendipity of it. Imagine that! We are all here together by accident. Fate! And furthermore, the mischievous sense of of us all playing hooky from the Saints game, which is why the gym was empty. Or maybe that I was a bit starved for adult conversation and was happy to be able to talk to him, in which case there is a negative spin on it — Alexander was saying Nat over and over because Nat was the dastardly fellow who would now distract his father.
Kids are super-sensitive to whom their parents talk to and where their attention wanders.
At any rate, the following day apropos of nothing Alexander turned to me with great excitement and sense of discovery and said, “Nat!”
I love it when things pop into his mind for no reason and then come tumbling awkwardly forth into language.
For example, last week he was on the changing table when he dropped his binky — i.e., his pacifier — onto the floor. He doesn’t use the pacifier much. I don’t know why he had it in his mouth just then. But he dropped it. I had changed him by then. He was sitting up.
“Binky?” he said.
“Yes!” I said.
He has very large hands with outrageously long fingers, and he often points his index finger emphatically. He pointed down he said, “Fall down.”
“Yes!” I said.
“Binky?” he said, and pointed up.
“Fall down!” he said. And he pointed to the ground.
He proceeded to repeat this mantra about twenty times.
I would say “yes,” or “that’s right,” or “I think we have established that fact beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
He said: “Binky? Fall down!”
Then his face lit with an epiphany.
What was it?
The invention of electricity?
The melody to “Let’s Fall in Love?”
Where he left the keys?
No, it was something else …
“Dog!” he shouted.
I loved that non-sequitur so much! Also, I mischaracterized the timing, making it sound, in musical terms, like he skipped a beat and then said dog, but it was the opposite — he rushed the beat, came in early with “dog!” the way kids, when they say, “duck duck duck duck goose!” tend to jump the beat on “goose!”
Twenty binky-falls-downs and then: “Dog!”
It was as though a dog had rushed into the room, scampering on air somewhere just above our heads, and he wanted us to see it before it rushed out. He composed himself from the shock of this epiphany, the flying dog, and then resumed his story: “Binky? Fall down!” He said it another five or ten times. I laughed and laughed and laughed. It was pure joy.
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