Transmissions From Toddler-Town: The Devil’s Dictionary
He talks a lot, now, this kid. B-Dub’s got a whole contingent of words, some of them known, some of them guessed-at, some of then Lovecraftian gibbers that summon gray-skinned amphibious monstrosities from the deep. It all started with Mommy and Daddy, of course, but it always does and those don’t make particularly exciting first words — far more compelling to have a first word like “Pasketti.” Or “Bah-Bah.” Or “neo-anarchist regime.” Or, “Hey, lady, I got a diaper here that’s as heavy as a wet sweater and it’s killing all the plant life in a ten-yard radius. Can a little guy get a change or what?”
But for him, the first most persistent word was “truh,” for “truck,” which is his most beloved thing in the world. He will hold his toy trucks and he will hug them and kiss them on their windshields. He will try to feed them his food, making little pretendy-eating noises as he forces a green dump-truck to nosh on a couple green peas or a quadrant of sliced banana.
Now, of course, the trucks are waning in importance as the era of the “choo-choo” begins.
* * *
I should note that I fucking can’t stand Thomas the Tank Engine. I just can’t. I can’t do it. Especially the older versions where it’s all stop-motion? Something sinister going on there. Thomas has dead eyes. A blank face. I’m reminded of The Dark Tower whenever I see him. And he’s dumb as a bag of back hair, that Thomas. He’s like, the worst train ever. If he were a real train, by now someone would have decommissioned him and melted him down to slag. Not the least of all because he talks, and trains aren’t supposed to talk. THE EVIL BLUE BASTARD.
* * *
B-Dub knows most of his colors. Blue is blue. Purp is purple. Pink is pink. But then the next three are a bit… muddy. Oro for orange, roro for red, elro for yellow. At least all three of those colors are basically next to each other on the spectrum? I dunno.
The most confusing one is ebwee, which is — green?
That’s the thing. Sometimes he says things clear as a bell — “tractor,” for instance, or “camera.” But then some words are utter mysteries as to how they come about.
Elmo is Nen. Sleeve is Heebwee. Peanut is Pebble.
The real bite is that sometimes he’ll say a word perfectly clear — clear as like, a radio personality from the 1950s, all enunciated and everything.
Then he’ll never say it right ever again. Every time you get him to repeat it, the word dissolves further, like a sand castle eroded one splash of seawater after the next. Until the end he’s just squinting and noisily filling his diaper to mimic the word. Or perhaps just to shut us up.
* * *
That’s the other thing. He’s now aware of his diapers. And his bathroom habits.
He wants a potty. A proper potty. He’s a year-and-a-half and he wants to potty train?
Can’t we just keep him in diapers a little longer? Hell, can’t I wear diapers? It sounds so easy!
* * *
He loves music. Particular favorites:
The entire “Join Us” album of They Might Be Giants.
The song, “Do It With A Rockstar,” by Amanda Palmer.
And, of course, “Gangnam Style.”
He rocks out to “Gangnam Style.” He even pauses his dance in the quiet space before Oppa Gangnam Style at which point he sometimes spaz-dances not like a well-mannered genteel Kentucky horse but rather like a bucking stallion who is also covered in fire ants.
A month or so ago, after listening to “Gangnam Style” for the 80,000th time, the song ends and he suddenly rips off his diaper and yells:
Which, I figure, is how that song should basically end anyway.
* * *
He has a handful of pre-established B-Dub dance moves.
He has, “The Traffic Cop.”
He has “The Invisible Teacup.”
He has “The Sassy Garden Hose.”
He has the “Horse-in-a-Mosh-Pit.”
He has the “Pocoyo Up-And-Down.”
* * *
Some things that B-Dub says aren’t words. They’re gestures. He knows “mustache” somehow, and lays his finger across his upper lip to let you know. “Beard” is him scratching his face. He has gestures for “more,” for “up,” for “down.” He makes sounds to indicate wanting to eat (he smacks his lips) or drink (he makes a sound like he’s slurping through a straw).
He also has words that have no apparent meaning. “Abuway.” Or “Dabooty.” Those two get a lot of play. I think they’re probably just him playing with sounds, having fun with language. But I also secretly hope they form his secret DJ name. Like, we take him to bed and then he quietly slips out and puts on his sequined DJ outfit and then he runs to the club as his secret identity, “DJ Abuway Da-Booty: Mixmaster Elite.”
* * *
Of course, “quietly slips out” is a joke. B-Dub doesn’t “quietly” do much. In fact, we’ve entered the tectonic tantrum portion of Toddlertown’s history, where sometimes he will throw an atomic shit-fit for no reason at all. Or sometimes there’s a reason so insane you just have to laugh. Like, yesterday, the new puppy had chewed up a dog toy and left remnants on the floor. B-Dub grabbed one. Just a little thumb-sized piece of black rubber. I quickly reached over and grabbed it away, and for like, ten seconds, he lost all semblance of sanity.
The toddler was a shrieking banshee, a rampaging ape, a tiny tornado in a truck shirt and sweat pants. And then I forget if he got distracted by something else or what, but he basically must’ve thought, “Oh, I don’t know if I really wanted that?” and then went to do something else.
* * *
He threw the first real scary tantrum the other night. A two-hour nuclear meltdown that had no cause and so we thought no solution. It was the point where we thought something was wrong. Like, if you’re a new parent, you sometimes see shadows on the wall where there are none, and if you’re a new parent who has ever read anything about “meningitis and children,” you have a brand new boogeyman. Because here’s the drill with meningitis for kids: you probably don’t know they have it and your doctor won’t know they have it and by the time you figure it out you’re probably too late and they’re probably going to die or be brain-damaged and so now — me, already a fucking hypochondriac — worries that every strange behavior by the boy is the first sign of meningitis. “Is he constipated? Is that a freckle? Hiccups? OH SHIT MENINGITIS.”
So: two-hour-long shit-fit felt worrying.
Thing is, there was a clue to the shit-fit buried in an earlier rage-fueled wail — B-Dub had called out for “Tar-uh,” which is to say, he wanted to go to Target. He loves Target. And he knows the name because, hey, I guess branding works on young minds. (Whee.)
We didn’t listen to him. We did not take him to Target.
And two hours later, I decided to ask him again: “Do you want to go to Target?” In part because we had to go. We had a list of things we needed. And suddenly, like that, the tantrum vanishes, whisked behind a curtain as his eyes light up. “Tar-uh?” “Yes, Target.”
We took him. He has never been happier. He ran around like that loose Ikea monkey.
And of course, we got totally fucking played. Because he wanted a train pillow and, normally stalwart against buying him everything the kid wants (“Sure, kid, you can have that machete and those cigarettes”), we crumpled like a tinfoil tent. He won that battle. But now we know.
We will stay frosty for the war to come.
* * *
For days he’s been saying, “Debuh.”
We thought it was one of his mystery words.
But then the other day he points to my bookshelf.
“Debuh,” he says.
On the shelf is a — well it’s an ornament, but I dunno that it’s a Christmas ornament, per se, and the reason I don’t know if it’s really appropriate to the season is because it’s…
…okay, it’s The Devil.
A red Devil in a nice suit with a pitchfork.
“Debuh,” he says. Devil.
I taught him that six months ago and I haven’t mentioned it since.
And suddenly, the Devil resurfaces. HIS TRUE FATHER. Or not.
Children are sponges. All they do is absorb.
* * *
We’ve finally — er, mostly — curbed our profanity. At this, the final hour, where he’s mimicking us and saying new words daily. We were once going to find new words to replace the vulgarities but instead settled on the surprisingly fun “letter replacement.” GD for goddamn, S for shit, F for — well, c’mon. So, if you’re really mad at someone, it’s all, “EFF THAT EMMEREFFING ESS-HEAD IN THE BEE-HOLE, GEE-DEE-IT.”
It’s fun because you can do that in public, too. And adults still know what you’re talking about.
It’s like stealth profanity.
* * *
It times out well because at the same time our profanity is reduced to letters, B-Dub is learning his letters. He’s got maybe half the alphabet down. Sometimes you ask him what a letter is and he gets real quiet and whispers it to you — “Beeeeeee” — like it’s a secret cipher he doesn’t want the rest of the world to crack.
Some letters are better said than others, of course. “H” is “Hay.” “F” is, perhaps appropriately, a fart noise. “Q” is B-Dub mimicking someone vacuuming, which took us a while to understand, but when you say that word, “vacuum,” you hear the non-existent “Q” in there.
It’s weird how kids see the world in pieces and sometimes bring strange pieces together.
* * *
He has an iPad.
I feel terribly privileged and terribly stupid for saying that — our 18-month-old has a goddamn iPad. Which is absurd, really. But we were looking into toddler-aged tablet computers and it’s like, a couple hundred bucks for some plastic Fisher Price “computer” and you pay $15 for the “apps” and — c’mon. So, I had my first-gen iPad and he really loved it and so I figured, why train him on some kiddie piece of plastic?
So, he has my old iPad.
(Which means, yes, I got a new one. Hey, whatever, work expense, DON’T JUDGE ME.)
He’s freakishly good at it. He’s so good he taught me multi-gestures I didn’t know existed. Because he has no rules. He has no sense of what you can and cannot do. The tablet’s all faux-tactile so he just touches the screen and fucking wiggles his fingers like they’re magic squid tentacles just to see what happens. And by now he knows how to open and close apps, how to pull up the tray or turn the screen off or whatever. He wants Grover, he gets Grover. He wants to draw on the drawing app, he closes Grover and pops that sumbitch open.
It’s already a sign that he’s going to know things I don’t when it comes to — well, technology, but really, everything else ever. At first that was terrifying but then it became really liberating, really wonderful. He should know things I don’t. That’s how we move forward, isn’t it? That’s how generations tumble one after the next, picking up things that the previous generation could not — or, even stranger, would not have even conceived of in the first damn place. It’s a beautiful thing watching him learn, watching him figure stuff out with his big blue eyes wide as moons, with his mouth slackened in some kind of puzzled bliss. Even through the tantrums, even through the misunderstood words, even through diapers that smell like a dump from a lion that ate a vulture that ate a hobo corpse, it’s a weird and beautiful thing watching a tiny human become not-so-tiny in both the body and the brain. As they grow, so do we.