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let’s make a deal

Munchkin always has been a babbler, but the last month or so has seen a veritable linguistic explosion as his language skills finally caught up with his desire to express himself. He sings songs and reads books to himself. When we play in the little green space outside our building, he runs up to greet all the neighbors and tell them all about his toys. Even his daycare teacher has remarked several times to us that he is talking up a storm.

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There are still limitations of course. Oftentimes, in his excitement to communicate his thoughts, he slurs all his syllables into one long, incomprehensible barrage of sound. He always ends it with a distinct word, however, so we can usually figure out what he’s talking about even if we can’t definitively identify what he meant to say. Come to think of it, this is probably analogous to the way our speech sounds to him. His vocabulary being quite limited, he likely only recognizes a small fraction of the words we direct at him while the rest sounds like gobbledygook to his young ears. The challenge of deciphering his peculiar pronunciation still remains. S is a bit better than D at identifying Munchkin’s new words, unless the word in question happens to be Russian. 

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We had long wondered what exactly goes on inside our child’s mind. What has surprised us most, now that his speech has begun to offer a glimpse into his thoughts, is the extent and complexity of his imagination. Not only does he use his magformers to build “super-machinas (super cars), but he also specifies the kind of vehicles he is constructing, ranging from police cars to firetrucks, to tow trucks and diggers. Same goes for his doodling. When he picks up the remote control, he usually presses it to his ear and tells us that he’s calling his babushka. And when he brought home a basket of plastic Easter eggs from daycare, he insisted that there were frogs inside every time he opened them.

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Now that we can have actual conversations with Munchkin, which typically focus on what he does and does not want to do, we have entered a perilous terrain. There are the trying negotiations of the let’s-make-a-deal sort. “Eat your vegetables, and then you have some Cheerios with milk.” Cheerios are, incidentally, the first brand to which Munchkin has developed a fierce loyalty, and the one food he currently demands at all mealtimes. And then there are the times when we tell white lies and simultaneously wonder whether Munchkin will give us a pass when he discovers the truth.

The latter bring up an interesting question: how much should one lie to one’s kids? D found himself pondering the moral implications of lying to Munchkin as he tried to cajole him into going outside the other day. S had accompanied D and Munchkin to the elevator because he would not leave the house without her, but she stepped back just as the doors closed, and this blatant abandonment caused a tearful meltdown. When the elevator reached the lobby, Munchkin sat down in tears just outside the doors and would not budge, whimpering for his mommy all the while. “Mommy will meet us outside. Come, let’s look! Maybe she’s already there,” was the line that ultimately got him going. Munchkin calmed down and let this lie pass unchallenged, and he forgot all about how badly he missed his mommy as soon as he set foot outside. Still, D was careful to build in some plausible deniability into his untruth.

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