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oldies but goodies

For months now, we have been fighting a losing battle in an attempt to keep track of Munchkin’s funny sayings, cute mispronunciations, and imperious pronouncements. Now that he speaks in complete, and oftentimes run-on, sentences, documenting his ever-evolving speech has become nearly impossible. Still, we find the fight worth fighting, as much for the laughs it provides now as for the memories it surely will cement for the future. Half of D’s journal entries these days consist of Munchkin’s peculiarly Russian-tinged, East African-accented, English speech. Most of the below date from the first two weeks in January, before we left on our vacation:

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Consequences have become a staple of Munchkin’s conversation over the last few months, ranging from the mundane “If I eat my dinner, I get dessert” to the more elaborate “You have to close your eyes. You can’t open the door because then the bugs will eat you. If you close your eyes and go to sleep, then mommy will come to wake you up.” The latter rhetorical discourse was part of an extended bedtime conversation with D, who had to talk Munchkin down from his hysterics after S grew fed up with his refusal to put on pajamas and stormed out of the room. Even after he had calmed down, drunk his milk, and gotten into bed, Munchkin clearly was still shaken by the experience. “Papa, don’t lock the door. If you lock the door, mama will never come back,” he implored, choking back tears, in a pathetic, plaintive voice.

In addition to emulating the accent, Munchkin has also assimilated a number of local cultural behaviors. At bedtime, he waddles upstairs carrying the milk box on his head. He has also internalized his nanny’s overenthusiastic clapping; he now expects, and sometimes demands, applause for routine accomplishments. “Yay! Good job, papa!” he cheered as D ate the last bite of his dinner before turning to S and remarking in a mock-stern voice, “You have to eat your dinner! Look, there’s still food! I’m not going to clap until you finish.”

Keenly aware that we speak different languages to him, Munchkin has taken to translating D’s speech for S’s benefit, and sometimes vice versa. “Mama, mama — papa says…” he’ll interpret each of D’s sentences for S. Usually he gets them at least mostly right, though at times he will put words in our mouths, telling S, for example, “Papa says I have to eat ice cream,” when D had said no such thing. Because his understanding of Russian is imperfect, sometimes he’ll grasp the subject while missing the thrust of D’s words. When D suggested to Munchkin that he should help S finish the aforementioned dinner by eating her vegetables, Munchkin dutifully turned to S and translated, “Papa says I have to help you because you can’t do it by yourself…” He paused to pick up a steamed carrot off S’s plate before concluding, “Open your mouth!”

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D frequently wonders how much Russian Munchkin actually knows, and how much he will retain. Almost as soon as D despairs – as he did when Munchkin developed a (mercifully short-lived) habit of making nonsensical noises and telling people that he was speaking Russian – Munchkin does something unexpected, like counting 1 to 10 in Russian, that we didn’t think he could do.

After a period when he all but shunned D’s native tongue, the pendulum has swung back towards Russian again in recent days. Sometimes Munchkin explains to S that the Russian words he uses are “in French,” which is fine by us, so long as he continues using them. Our current favorites of his are “trusikis” for underwear and its companion “shortikis” for swimming trunks. His Russian pronunciation is not 100 percent, but sometimes he infuses English words with perfectly Russian sounds that are absent in English. “Liogurt” – the way he says “yogurt” with a clear Russian vowel <ё> — is a case in point.

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That he now speaks English quite well does not prevent him from modifying English words as well. Two prime examples are “chocolick” for chocolate and its companion “broccolick.” He likes the former quite a lot more than the latter, obviously. In fact, this kid has become a fiend for chocolate. “It’s a birthday!” he exclaimed happily at one of the lodges when S gave him a large piece of chocolate cake for dessert. “You need some balance,” a kindly grandma advised Munchkin in the airport lounge on our way to Namibia as S attempted to ply him with grapes in lieu of the dessert he had spied. “I don’t want balance,” he retorted, “I want chocolick!”

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