I don’t think I ever considered that I would spend over a year of my life living with another human being who refuses to talk back and engage in meaningful conversation with me. And I’m not talking about my wife. I’m of course referring to the little munchkin also known as my son. In addition to the sleepless nights and changing nappies, the rest of the quality time alone with my son was filled with me talking to a baby who is incapable of me talking back.
Their brains are learning and absorbing lots of information about the world and language. The experts say it’s important to talk to your baby. So I did… I’d spend all my time with the munchkin describing what I was doing, whether it was mundane tasks like making a hot drink or preparing food for him.
The next milestone was when he said a meaningful word. I think his first word was ‘Dada!’ Wow, he said ‘Dada’ before ‘Mummy’ and I thought I had one small win over my wife until I later learned that it’s probably an easier sound for him to make. ‘Mama’ and ‘Mummy’ followed shortly after.
At first I didn’t think he really listened, cared or understood. Probably because he didn’t. Then one day he started making facial expressions. Then he started smiling and then we were blessed with the occassional laugh here and there.
Then eventually one day he started to babble. In the beginning it was utter nonsense, but hilarious nonsense. Such as his current favourite word which is ‘dobbie’. Now dobbie isn’t a real word and I’m also pretty sure he isn’t talking about the house elf from Harry Potter, as he is only 21 months old and hasn’t seen it yet. We have no idea what this means but he says it all day whilst enthusiastically pointing at things. To us this is hilarious.
One weekend my Mother babysat for us while my wife and I attended a wedding in London. When we came to collect him on Sunday she was giving us the usual report of everything he had been up to. ‘Any new words…?’ I asked. My mum gave me a detailed run down of the usual words I already knew he could say such as; ‘car’, ‘ha’ (for hat), ‘cu’ (for cup) and ‘bin’. ‘Bin’ was exciting. It was a new word we didn’t know he could say. The following week he could understand my instruction to put rubbish in the bin. At first, his new found knowledge of the bin was helpful. He saved me numerous trips from the living room to the bin, or even more handily, from the kitchen diner table to the bin, until one day we discovered everything in the bin. Spoons, books, and soft toys the list goes on. I personally think he took it too far. The munchkin was obsessed.
The one word my mum did say he said was ‘see’. Like if he pointed to an insect in the garden that was moving and said; ‘see’. It didn’t take long for me to discover that if he ever was saying ‘see’ it didn’t sound anything at all like ‘see’. It actually sounded more like ‘shit.’ ‘Socks’ also sounded like ‘shit’ and ‘sleep’ sounded like ‘shit’ too. So when my wife came home from picking him up from nursery one day and said she was concerned he’d picked up a swearing habit, I tried to reassure her that it just sounded like shit but it was in fact ‘see’ or he was saying another word but just hadn’t said it right. She wasn’t convinced. She tried to explain that he was using it in the right context. I didn’t listen until one day he dropped something then said; ‘Oh shit’. I thought you’ve got to be kidding me. He can’t even pronounce the ‘p’ in cup but he’s mastered the art of swearing. Not even my dad is able to use swear words in the right context. He once famously called my brother a ‘shit-arse’, but my 21 month old son is swearing to perfection. Sometimes when he says it he just does it for fun. It was at this point that I started to get concerned.
So I consulted a few of my work colleagues who have toddlers and asked if their children ever swore. One of my colleagues retold a story of how his three year old said ‘bugger’ once. First of all his son only said it once, just the once. Secondly, on a sliding scale ‘bugger’ is not in the same league as ‘shit’ when it comes to swear words. My other work colleagues were quiet, which said it all. I concluded that we definitely had a problem as I hadn’t gained any reassurance from my peers.
When I arrived home that evening I asked my wife where on earth he could possibly have learned this from. ‘NURSERY!’ we both proclaimed. ‘Well it must be, because he spends all his time there and we’re not there.’ The next day we were waiting to leave the house. ‘Oh shit’ I said as I couldn’t find my keys. As we were driving off I shouted ‘SHIT. I’m not sure I locked the back door’. My wife looked at me then I said;
‘Shit, it might be me where he got it from’.