1. Autocorrect

For a long time, when Alice said, “Thank you, Mama,” it came out like, “Choo-choo, (pause, pause) Mama.” Like tripping on the last porch step or jamming together two mismatched puzzle pieces. So sweet and so full of effort.

What she says now comes a lot closer to “Thank you.” It is still very sweet, but so self-possessed that I sometimes miss the raw newness of her very first attempts.

At 1 year, 9 months and 24 days old, if you ask Alice what a turkey says, she responds, “dobble dobble.” In your head, if you can, imagine her saying “dobble dobble” in the same teeter-totter  lilt as you might say something like, oh, “neener-neener.” Then you will understand why I ask her about 80 times a day what a turkey says. Because someday she will look at me, roll her eyes and say “Gobble.” And that will be that.

2. Find and replace

Often at bedtime, after the stories have been read and water has been dispensed, I try to settle her by saying goodnight to everything I can think of to say goodnight to. She repeats after me.

“Goodnight, Daddy.”

Night-night, Daddy.

“Goodnight, gata.”

Night-night, gata.

“Goodnight, outside.” (Which is just as much a thing to her as anything.)

Night-night, ‘side.

Where there are words she knows but does not know how to say, she finds substitutes.

“Goodnight, sheep. Goodnight, elephant. Goodnight, cupcake.”

Night-night, baaa. Night-night, Dumbo. Night-night, doot-doot. 

3. Wordcount

And anyway, why doot-doot? Where does it come from?

It is a noun. It is nonspecific in that it means any tasty, snacky treat. Sweet or savory. Cupcake or Ritz cracker. Why doot-doot? I wish I knew. There are words she knows and only she knows why.

Two of the first words she learned – and she learned to sign them before she could say them – were “more,” and “all done.” For a long time, “more” and “all done,” and the signs for them, were applied strictly in reference to food. But she has since extended their meanings, and they have become a useful shorthand to her. One she knows we understand.

“More” still means “more.” It also means “another.” Driving home, she sees a red car and says, “Red!” She sees a red truck. “More red!

And “more” means, “No, that other one instead.” I cover her with a crocheted blanket. She points to a quilt. “More blankie?”

“All done,” on the other hand, could make you cry.

It almost always means, “OK. That unpleasant thing is over now, right?”


The vacuum switches off, and she comes out of hiding. “All done.”

I manage to get a conjunctivitis-treating drop into her right eye. “All done?”

But there is still the left.


One thought on “syntax

  1. Pingback: hearts and souls | mi mamá me mima

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