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 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.”

Tantrum over.

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.

34 responses to “Transmissions From Toddler-Town: The Devil’s Dictionary”

  1. I never wanted kids, for a multitude of reasons, but reading you wax poetic and profane about your offspring…yeah, I still wouldn’t want one, but I found it very touching.


    • You have basically described my entire experience around children. I definitely don’t want one, but I’m starting to find things regarding them touching. (Is that how they trap you? I hope not).

  2. There are few things that make my ovaries cry out with longing quite like reading your Transmissions from Toddler Town. Your son sounds so awesomely amazing, and you seem like such the coolest dad.

  3. Wow. This is like reading me describing my son just last year (he’ll be three next week). Loves the iPad. Loves Thomas. Tonight though he had his best gem of all, the one that made us institute our swear jar with extreme prejudice. He called his father a “poop in the ass.”

    It was so damn funny I had him repeat it three times, just to hear it in all its profane glory.

    Poop in the ass. And this comment just cost me three bucks for the swear jar. Damn.

  4. Love you B-Dub posts, Chuck. You’re the awesome dad of an awesome kid, and it’s great how you’re letting us all be a tiny part of that. Thanks!

  5. These posts have done more to remind me I want kids more than anything else written about children. You’re giving me a way to talk about it that makes sense. Babies = poop and awesome.

    That’s real talk.

  6. That’s a fantastic picture of B-Dub!

    Great stuff, Chuck, I sincerely think there is a “Fatherhood” book in the future. Your Toddler-town posts are always funny and poignant and transport us parent types back to that magical time( or forward for those of us without kids yet).

    As for potty training, my wife has always said our kids are smart on top but dumb on the bottom. They were all four before they were completely trained, but my neighbor had hers trained before the age of two. Be mindful of he stealth profanity, I am still struggling with my youngest, the shithouse lawyer, trying to get him to stop doing it. But he does it like an abbreviated sailor!

  7. When I was 20 and my brother was 18, my mother adopted a newborn baby, our little sister. Our sister has always looked up to her much-older brothers, often wanting to imitate us or follow in our footsteps. Because my brother is a musician, our sister said she wanted a guitar when she was 3 or 4, so my mom got her a little pink plastic toy guitar for Christmas. Our sister loved it and played with it all Christmas day, at one point running around the house with the guitar held in front of her (the way one really plays guitar), one hand down in her crotch, her index finger pointing out, and she sang loudly, “I’m sticking out my penis!” To which my brother said, “Damn, she’s really nailed the essence of rock music!”

    Toddlers are funny little people.

  8. So funny! Thank you for sharing your son’s milestones. It’s nice to relive a little of those days (mine are now 11, 13, & 15). Get him the toilet. It’s doubtful he’ll use it with an consistency for a while. Unless you have a potty prodigy- which would be awesome. But he’ll buddy up to it in the meantime.

    P.S. Have you ever read the actual “Devil’s Dictionary”? I have a copy. You would love it. 🙂

  9. I wish I had written all this stuff down when my kids were really little. But I had twins. That’s a whole other degree of difficulty. The only thing I remember clearly was that they would both say “yai-yoo” when they wanted Cheerios. It wasn’t until much later that we figured out they were trying to say “yellow,” because the Cheerios box is yellow.

  10. This was a nice post. 🙂 Experiencing life through the eyes of a tiny human, to whom everything is new and amazing and scary and wonderful, is really magical. I really wish I had made myself pay more attention to that when my son was small, and that I’d written more of it down so that i could share it with him someday. But ten is a fun age, too. It’s just before the coming of the PUBERTY OF DOOM, and all is calm and everything is right with the world.

  11. Loved this latest from Toddler-Town! I’m so old, I introduced my jungle-gym children to tennis on the commodore 64, and eventually to MS Office. They introduced me to cell phones and texting…My grandchildren know how to use ipads, smart phones, and do their homework on computers. They take me to movies so I can keep up with how stories are filmed these days. They will learn far more in the digital age than I’ll be able to comprehend.

    I think the trade off will be in what is commonly read in schools. Yes, everyone’s read Harry Potter and seen the movies, but how many of today’s graduates ever heard about Tom Brown’s school days? I’m just grateful that I can imagine how they’d film the movie.

    It really is true, what they say that “Time marches on!”

  12. Right there with you about Thomas. There have to be less scary choo choo alternatives. *shudder*

    You’ve nailed one of the awesome things about hanging out with little kids – watching them learn. Nothing more fun in the world, IMHO. Ditto on the potty advice. If he wants to control his nether end now, go with it. And avoid pull-ups at all costs – the damned things are expensive and can drag out potty training by years.

  13. I love kid words. It always broke my heart when my daughter learned the correct word for something she invented her own name for. Forever in my heart, yogurt will be known as “snummy,” napkins will be “makkins,” and magnets will be “maggots.” Enjoy your newly enriched vocabulary!

  14. Yes, I feel you with the evil of Thomas. I have no kids (and don’t really want any, I much prefer being an aunt) but my nephew had a freakish obsession with the Tank Engine of Fish-Eyed Death. Thankfully this went away once I introduced him to Batman and Tonka Trucks.

  15. I hope this guy is an orderly when I hit the assisted living facility about 2 decades from now. He’s going to have such good stories about his somewhat clueless parents. And somewhere amongst all my stuff will be a flashdrive with this blog on it. Karma. 🙂

  16. Yeah, my son decided he was done with diapers, ripped it off at the zoo and hasn’t looked back. Weirdest potty training ever.

    Oh, and both my kids have iPads. I don’t have one, they inherited there’s from older relatives who didn’t know how to use them. I basically told the g-parents that, if they gave the kids the iPads, they were volunteering to babysit because I didn’t want them at our very small, very cramped apartment. My 2 year old uses it to dance with the Wiggles, my 9 year old is obsessed with Minecraft and uses the iPad to keep up with his favorite youtubers.

    Enjoy Toddlertown, the future is fun and terrifying.

  17. OK, we need more of this. MOAR BABY STUFF. This was totally awesome. Took me back, since it’s well over a decade and closing on two since I had a toddler (yeah, freakish, cause I swear it was yesterday – who fed my kid the growth serum??).

    I think the iPad is a great thing. My brother’s kids (he started a decade later than I did, so his are still small) have had access to technology from about B-Dub’s age and they’re really whizzes with it now. It amazes me to see little kids running technology that some adults STILL can’t always get right (lookin’ at you with Facetime on the iPad there, mom…).

    Most of all, though, this just cracked me up.

  18. Thomas and the Magic Railroad was my childhood in a nutshell. You should watch it. B-dub will love it, and Alec Baldwin goes nuts…. in a child-friendly way. That in of itself is worth at least five dollars.

    Wait till he gets into Transformers (the cartoon, not Michael Bay’s mockery of it). And Star Wars: The Clone Wars. And Ben 10. Then the fun begins. Man I love me a good transformers cartoon, even today.

    Here’s to maturity!

  19. The last paragraph brought a tear to my eye, and that’s a gee dee miracle because I don’t have tear ducts.

    I imagine your boy reading this when he’s older and smiling about how much his dad loves him.

  20. I swear iPads were invented for toddlers. They are truly intuitive when you have no preconceptions of how things should work. And, unlike many electronic child-amusers, they encourage flow, which is excellent for brain development.

    But enough of such nonsense! Bdub is adorable and I hope you are backing up these posts, because you will treasure them in future when you will have forgotten a lot of this, crazy though that seems now. Thanks for letting us share his toddlerdom!

  21. Great post. Your son sounds like the very best bits of parenthood all rolled up into one tornado-like package.

    On the subject of music, I spent a couple of months looking after my niece when she was only a baby (long story to do with un-built creches and maternity leave ending), and she would sometimes cry for no reason, as babies do. The only thing that would calm her down was Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani. No nursery rhymes, no inane baby-talk. Hollaback Girl. With swearing. And bananas.

    The story of your boy mastering the iPad at the grand old age of 18 months brings to mind something read the other day about an aid agency that recently left two big crates filled with solar-powered tablet computers in the middle of a remote village in Ethiopia.

    This is a village that has no electricity and where the majority of people don’t know how to read. Within five months, the kids in the village had not only worked out how to switch the tablets on and how to work them, they’d also worked out how to hack the applications and change them.

    There is nothing the human mind cannot achieve with hard work and perseverance.

  22. No kids of my own, but I have friends with a kid who is the epitome of cute, and he also substitutes “H” for “S,” for reasons we don’t understand. “No, don’t hepp me! I can do it myhelf!” Adorable.

    Also, in my thoroughly non-PC work environment we often do the letter-substitution swears, especially to describe sex acts, i.e., “Paul likes boys to put their W in his BH.” Less adorable than the above, but almost as hilarious.

  23. When my 17-year-old was just over a year old and learning language, he started calling me “Diney” instead of Mama. No clue why, or where the heck he got it. Lasted for about six months, then poof… gone. Enjoy every minute, even tbe tantrums; they make great conversation topics with my son’s friends… mwahaha!

  24. I love kids, and I love your post. Hysterical, great insights, but right now, I’m going to buy your books, not just your craft books, which I already knew about and own, but I hadn’t visited this blob to just read. You write superbly, which I know you already know:), but geez. Excellent.

  25. One day my twins just woke up and hated Thomas. I wish you the same grand luck.

    Duct tape for diapers to keep them on. And you’d be surprised how well a motivated kid can PT themselves if you let them run around naked with a potty chair in the living room. The ONLY potty chairs that work with boys are the ones with a super high middle shield like this:

    And look! It’s at effing Target! (You are so screwed, dude) 🙂

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