Tuesday, August 19, 2008 | By: Zachary Bartels

Potty, Playdates, and Presumption

I'm a father now.

I'm looking forward to wrestling with my son and playing catch and all that fun stuff that goes with being a father. I'm also well aware that fatherhood means I'll be wiping noses, changing diapers, and cleaning up unpleasant messes of various kinds for some time. There's no avoiding that--it's part of the package.

What I can avoid, however, is turning into a sniveling, half-regressed semi-moron just because I live with a human who cannot yet walk or speak. Sure, I coo a little at Calvin when he's being really cute, but in the interest of not confusing the heck out of him as he begins to recognize phonetic patterns, I do not speak to him in non-existent languages. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for the little guy learning some Spanish, Hebrew, and Koine Greek at a young age, but I'm not going to confuse him with Klingon (not that I know Klingon), because it's useless. It's not real. If he decides he likes Star Trek instead of girls, he can pursue that on his own during his teen years.

So with that in mind, why would I speak the useless and imaginary language of "baby-ese" to the poor little guy? Why confuse him with words like "ouchy," "binky," and "sippy?" Yes, I realize that he'll be able to say "Da Da" long before he can say "Dad." That's fine. He's a baby. I'll expect him to talk like one for quite some time. And, sure, as he learns to talk, there will undoubtedly be words he mispronounces and we'll find it cute and run with it, but why introduce a word wrong to begin with?

It's not a "fishy." It's a fish. It's not called "going potty." It's going to the bathroom. And what I find even more ridiculous is some people's inexplicable practice of intentionally breaking the rules of pronunciation and grammar when talking to toddlers and little children. "Aw, do you wike da widdew doggie-woggie?" "Does you have an owie on your little elbow?" What?! Are you trying to mess this kid up so he has a hard time mastering the English language??? And don't hit me with the "baby talk helps kids learn faster" nonsense. The studies you're thinking of have to do with speaking slow, simple sentences to a baby, not confusing the poor thing with a bunch of non-words and meaningless jabberwocky. Anyway, I don't care in the least if you talk to your kids in babytalk, Klingon, or Elvish. What I'm saying is that you won't find me doing it.

Call me weird, but even at three months old, my son is hearing me speak in these crazy units called "sentences" with subjects, predicates, verbs, the whole nine yards. I'd probably be doing this anyway by instinct, but it doesn't hurt that I have several friends who are parents of incredibly bright children and have gone the same route and swear by it. Teaching kids "baby talk" and then teaching them conversational English makes as much sense to me as starting with Sanskrit.

But, wait. I'm not done yet. There is a whole other subset of fake words that I am committed to avoiding like a stick of ebola-soaked Big Red: I call them "Mommy and Daddy words." You see, for some reason, not only do parents feel compelled to talk to their children like they were brain-damaged lower primates, but men and women alike actually start using that kind of "baby lingo" with each other! But not me. No, not me. Just like I'd rather be shot in the face with rock salt than teach Calvin that his blanket is called a "woobie," I will never use words like "preggers," "boppy," "playdate," "tummy time," or any of the slew of pointless abbreviations like "dipe" and "paci."

So a few days ago, I was discussing this with a friend of mine (the mother of two sweet little girls). Suddenly, a woman I've never met before lurched into the conversation and told me that I "needed to re-evaluate" what things annoy me. She then announced to everyone in the vicinity that she "gives me one year" before I, too, start babbling with abandon. Ugh. What cracks me up is that, in a setting full of little kids, her daughter was hands-down the worst-behaved one of the bunch. So why on earth would I want to follow in her footsteps? In any way? What if it's the annoying way she talks that is driving her daughter to act out like a Tasmanian devil on crack?

Rather than engage this woman in a debate about whether her prediction would come true, I just wrote myself a note in my Palm:
8/16/2009: Track down ______ _________ and inform her that she was wrong. Still don't talk to Calvin like he's an idiot and still find that highly annoying.

I win.

5 reader comments:

David Marvin said...

Can I teach Calvin Russian? He will need it to survive the impending invasion.

I have to admit that I have a number of crazy words that I have made up, just ask Valerie. But, I think that stems from my love of language, because most of the words I make up have pretty elaborate etymological background. Granted, I make up the etymology, too. But, I would never try to teach a kid to say or understand those things if they were complete nonsense.

ZSB said...

By all means, teach Calvin Russian.

Wait, on second thought, then I'd have you, Val, and Calvin making fun of me right in front of me and I couldn't do a thing about it...

E. said...

Preach it.

Jennifer said...

I completely agree. I think that's one of the reasons why Bray is five and speaks so intelligently. We didn't talk to him in a baby voice or use made up words. (Although it is fun to hear the words they make up themselves, such as "syat gook.") The one thing I have caught myself saying is "going potty." I think this is because almost all the books Bray and I read about learning to use the bathroom use this term. However, when I have caught myself using it in the past I have severely reprimanded myself for giving myself the gay layer.

Val said...

Yeah - my parents called it potty and I still occasionally regress into using the term. And trust me, no one wants to be the one at work that says "Can you watch the desk? I need to go use the potty."

Let me teach him architecture. Please?