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An Expanding Vocabulary

Maddie’s recently learned a few key words that make
communicating even easier – much to our chagrin.

First up is the phrase “uh-oh”. She heard it all summer
from her friend Naomi, who is six months older, and has started
saying it all the time. She’ll see a book fall off the table
– “uh-oh!” She spies Kitty running for cover in
the bedroom – “uh-oh!” But her favorite place to
use “uh-oh!” is as a warning for something she’s
about to do. Maddie will hold her dolly out over the floor, look at
us, say, “Uh-oh!” and drop dolly. In that context,
it’s got more of a “hey guys I’m about to do
something and want to see how you’ll respond”

It’s usually pretty harmless, but if she’s happily
playing in the living room while I work in the kitchen and I hear,
“Uh-oh!” I come investigating.


Second on the current favorites list is “no.” This
word is used a lot, and with absolutely no ambiguity attached. It
can be the single, long, anguished, “Nooooooooo!”
You’ll also hear it as the desperate, repeated, “No no
no no no no no!” Either way, not the easiest thing to hear as
you’re walking towards the car seat or getting ready for a
bath. Usually, though, the word’s used when something’s
over and Maddie’s not ready for the change.

Back in my “no” novice days (last week), I’d
naively offer Maddie a choice, giving her a blatant opportunity to
use the word. “Maddie, are you ready to stop playing and go
home?” “No!” Can’t get much clearer than
that, and can’t blame a girl for being mad if I make her go
home anyway: we spend the entire walk home with the crying/whining
equivalent of, “Well, why did you ask my opinion if you
weren’t going to take it??”

These days, I’m smarter and simply say, “Maddie,
it’s time to stop playing and go home.” That still wins
me a “no”, but in this context it’s more of a
pleading, “No, please? Please can we stay?” Definitely
easier to negotiate/lay down the law with.

The latest word she’s thrown into her language mix is one
that on the surface seems less fraught with danger, but comes with
many hidden strings attached.


She walks up to you, raises her arms charmingly, and sweetly says,
“Up?” How could you not pick that up for a cuddle?

Except that now she does it, oh, maybe fifteen times an hour.

In my feeble attempt to pretend I’ve still got some authority
in this relationship, I’m insisting that she says or signs
“please” along with the “up” request before
she gets picked up. No, I don’t always give in, but yes, I
usually do. I love my kid, and I’m aware that we’re all
too close to that age where she won’t want a cuddle. So
I’m enjoying the asking now.

Maddie’s been adding a few nouns to her vocabulary –
“applesauce” being the most notable newcomer –
but it’s interesting to me that the new words she learns all
have something to do with making her will known, attempting to take
some control over her life. Brian mused wearily aloud the other day
at the fact that toddlers usually learn the word “no”
far earlier than they learn “yes”, and wondered why
that was.

In my opinion, it’s because a baby’s entire life is
“yes” – days filled with adults trying to
understand the tot, and fulfill or even anticipate his every need.
As actions and consequences begin to enter the developmental
picture, adults stop blindly saying “yes” to every
want, choosing what’s best rather than what’s desired
from the child’s point of view. Suddenly, “no”
becomes a handy word to have in your pocket.

I should know – I use it all the time.


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