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Mommy's Little Prompter

Maddie’s been practicing her Jedi
Mind Tricks on people again – a trick she used to use before
she actually spoke English. Back in the babble days, she’d
stare intently into your eyes and wave her hands before you while
speaking hypnotically, as if willing you to understand and obey.
These days, with a common language between her and the other half
of the conversation, she’s become much more direct.

This all started with role reversal;
around 18 months she began parroting back whatever we would say. To
have a toddler stand up in the crib first thing in the morning and
say to you, “G’morning, mommy! How are you!” was
a bit disconcerting, to say the least. And lest you were tempted to
be flattered, you’d seat her in the high chair for breakfast,
see her lean back towards the air conditioner, and hear,
“G’morning, fan! How are you!”

I’ll admit, though, that this was a bit fun: to have cute
little idiomatic sayings pop out of that tiny mouth was a real
kick. Maddie would see a ball fly across her path at the park and,
“Oh, my goodness!” she’d exclaim. I think my
favorite social nicety that was automatic before she fully
understood it, though, was “Excuse me.” I loved
watching my kid sidle along between a parked car and a row of
bushes and say, “Excuse me, bush! Excuse me, car! Excuse me,
bush! Excuse me!”

But she’s realized that just as we can put words in her
mouth, she has the chance to try for the same thing with us. Until
you understand what’s going on, you think you’re in the
midst of a not-quite-grammatically-correct conversation with a

Then you realize you’re in the midst of a snow job.

I’ll be cutting up some fresh strawberries for dinner, and
Maddie will sidle up to me. “You want some
strawberries?” she’ll ask. Confused, perhaps,
I’ll answer, “No, thanks.” “You want some
strawberries?” she repeats, this time a bit louder, with a
bit more upswing on the ending inflection. “Um, no
thanks,” I’ll say again. Maddie presses closer, more
forcefully, her pupils dilating in an effort to literally mesmerize
me. “You want some strawberries?” she’ll say
again. “Uh, Maddie, do you want some strawberries?”
I’ll belatedly offer. “Okay,” she’ll
graciously accept.

This happens a lot, and has gotten to the point where we have to
warn visitors so they can have a coherent conversation. Maddie
especially likes to try this trick with things that are off-limits,
like cookies or going outside after dark. Since we’ve caught
on it hasn’t worked too much, but she continues hoping
we’ll be half-listening sometime and simply parrot back what
she says, then feel obligated to stick to the agreement. And for
the record, "You want to hold Baby Cora?" has become the most
popular prompt these days . . .

Maddie doesn’t always give you a whole sentence to say,
though. Sometimes she’ll simply give you a social prompt,
which will warn you what’s going on as well as remind you of
the appropriate way to behave. Say she’s approaching you with
a tray from her toy kitchen, and she says the words, “Thank
you, Mommy!” This means, “I’m offering you
something, and you should take it, Mommy, and say thank you!”
“Thank you, Maddie,” I graciously accept as I take a
bite of my freshly-baked air.

“Delicious,” she’ll add.

“Mmm, delicious,” I’ll dutifully reply.

Everyone loves a compliment.


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