Thursday, March 3, 2011

Of language barriers and 4 year olds

I had a playdate today with a friend I hadn't seen in about 10-11 years who has two kids roughly the same age as my two and I noticed (which made me feel better) that children definitely go through distinct phases at different ages and our job as a parent is to just get through them and enjoy some solidarity with fellow parents who are in the same spot we are in.

With kids Elizabeth's age we parents seem to be struggling with emerging tantrums, the beginning of limit testing, hitting in frustration and a "language barrier".  As I listened to my friend explain to her 4 year old daughter and my 4 year old son that they had to be "patient" with the little ones because they do not yet get the ideas of sharing, hurting another and that sometimes they just don't understand what we're asking of them, I felt better because I'm often asking William to be patient with his sister.  The one amusing thing I observed, though, is the language barrier with toddlers.  Besides them not always understanding what we ask of them, they too, get frustrated with our inability to understand THEIR language.  They are just learning how to string more than 2 words together and they don't yet grasp the proper use of pronouns, nor can they pronounce everything they want to say.  The result is that I'm often giving Elizabeth a bewildered look and saying, "I'm sorry honey, I just don't understand what you're saying."  As I was doing this (and wishing for a toddler translator) today, I realized that I needed to blog about some of her more interesting pronunciations before I forget them and before they turn into properly said words, because some of them (once I finally figured them out) are awfully cute.  To date here are some of her current "Elizabethisms" spelled phonetically so I can remember how she says them.

1. Keh-eeee U = carry me, only she tries to say "carry you" because I'm always asking, "do you want me to carry you?"
2. Budee-yu = "W" (as in the letter).  I often ask her which letter makes the "wuh" sound just to make her say "budee-yu"
3. Tuhtuh Maya = Princess Leah, no idea how she gets this, but this is how she pronounces it.
4. Chichin = chicken
5. Bar Dadar = Darth Vader (can you tell we like Star Wars in our house?)
6. Moo Moo Meer, Moo Moo Mare = Moo Moo here and a Moo Moo There (singing Old Mc Donald)
7. Dee Too Dee Too = R2D2, her favorite Star Wars character
8. Mankin = Anakin (as in Anakin Skywalker from, you guessed it, Star Wars).  She often points to herself and says, "mommy, I mankin"
9. Yoh-dyert = Gilbert (the name of a cat on the cartoon Caillou)
10. Baw-deddy = Strawberry. 
11. Uhmorning = good morning
12. I gowhen = I'm gonna win (which she says to me whenever we climb the stairs together)
13. Alligator = elevator (William said it the exact same way)
14. Poh-pawk = polka dot

Today, of course, she had a new one that I could not decipher, but as soon as I do I'll have to blog about it.

The other thing I notice today during the playdate?  4 years olds are funny creatures.  They alternate between moments of bossy-ness, generosity, cooperation, conflict, aloofness and solidarity .  As I watched William and his new friend Finn (a lovely young lady he was so excited to meet), I got to see all phases and it cracked me up.  Bossyness began the playdate with each trying to convince the other that THEY had the better play idea.  Finn wanted to play horses, William was hoping to convince her to play Star Wars.  Cooperation came up faster than I expected as they just agreed not to play anything and instead made pizzas together.  They stood on stools side-by-side, comparing sauce spreading technique and cheese volume and pepperoni placement.  They shared ingredients with nary and argument and then went off to our playroom while the pizzas baked.  After a bit of peaceful playing... conflict invariably arose.  Mike was first up the stairs and said he found them locked in conflict over a "drill press" that is part of a toy workbench we have.  Apparently they each had their two hands on it and were pulling in opposite directions yelling "NO!" at each other.  Mike told them neither of them got it and off they trotted into aloof play, each playing their own thing.  The miffed, aloof attitudes continued at the lunch table for a bit as they sat next to eachother but would not talk to each other.  However, it was quickly forgotten amid giggles, pizza and their common frustration with their younger siblings.

We retired upstairs after lunch, Cathleen (Finn and Jeremiah's mom/my friend) and I armed with coffee and deep breathing to watch all 4 of our kids play.  What looked to be another round of conflict since William had costumed himself to be a Storm Trooper and Finn costumed herself to be a princess, quickly turned into one of the most endearing displays of cooperation as it was agreed she would be Princess Leah and he would be Luke Skywalker so he could rescue the princess.  And while they were often frustrated with the younger two (Elizabeth and Jeremiah), they had those wonderful moments of generosity where you feel like you're doing something right.  Finn split our two pompons with Elizabeth so that they could each have one, William made sure Jeremiah could come in his room and play with his cars.  They both kindly offered to take toys upstairs that the younger ones had deposited and/or thrown downstairs.  William offered to share his costumes with Finn and Finn let Elizabeth play with the dolls she had brought with her.  And the 2nd best moment (after the cooperation resulting in Luke & Leah) was their moment of solidarity.  About 15 minutes before it was time for Cathleen and her kiddos to take off toward home, I brought up drinks for all the kids.  William and Finn decided that as the "older kids" they had had enough of "babies" and asked if they could have "dude and girls time" with their drinks in William's room without the babies and mommies.  I walked in to give them their juice and there they were, sitting on William's bed together, discussing a book they had open.  I about died as they, in unison, pointed to Jeremiah who was attempting to enter the sacred "big kids" spot and said, "No!  We wanted to be just the big kids!!".  I ushered Jeremiah back into the playroom and Cathleen and I enjoyed a few more minutes of chat while the babies drank quietly and the "big kids" remained safely holed up in William's room.

Cathleen and I had a great time discussing the joys and perils of parenting a 4 year old and a not-quite-two-year-old and making each other feel that, at the very least, someone else was experiencing how parenting can be the hardest thing you've ever done, the closest one can get to crazy without the padded walls and the most incredible, amazing, rewarding thing in the world.  Yes, we agreed, we needed to have "me time" so we didn't totally lose our marbles, yes naps are a necessity just so MOMS can have quiet time, but YES, we wouldn't give up being home with our kids for anything in the world.