I used to be astounded by how parents could always make sense of the incomprehensible word garbage coming out of their toddlers’ mouths. Some kid would scream “PTHWAAAAAAAACK,” his mom would hand him a glass of water and my mind would be blown by her translating superpowers. How did she DO that!?
But now that I’m a parent, I understand that: 1) When your kid screams “MAN-UH!” in the vicinity of bananas enough times, you eventually put two and two together, and 2) you DON’T always understand what your kid is saying.
And not understanding can be extremely frustrating for both parties. Kind of like when you try saying something in a foreign language and think you’ve said it correctly but the person listening to you has this baffled look on their face as well as the pained look of trying to understand you, which is just embarrassing.
Except kids have a really low tolerance for frustration in general, so when you don’t get it, they tend to scream the exact same thing louder several times before having a complete meltdown. Sometimes I like to pretend we live in a world where adults had meltdowns too (Safeway doesn’t carry rice crackers!? NOOO!!! Rolling on the floor, kicking the shelves...) but mostly, I’m just embarrassed by my kids screaming in public.
My husband and I can usually understand our four-year-old now, but there are still moments of confusion. Like the other day in the car, when she was telling us all about needing a “bell door.”
Brontë: I need a bell door. Grandma and poppa have a bell door at their house.
Me: A what? A “bell door”?
Me: A doorbell? We have a door bell.
Brontë: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
John: Calm down! What’s a bell door?
Brontë (flailing her arms): A BELL DOE! BELL DOE!
Me: Describe a “bell doe.” Tell me about bell doe’s.
Brontë: Has a yellow dress and a crown.
Me: A… Belle doll? Like in Beauty and the Beast?
Brontë: YES! A BELL DOOR!
Whew, alright. Brontë’s English is pretty good these days, but her two-year-old sister Bridget is still deep in the heart of baby mumble-speak. She was throwing fits all over town yesterday while we were running errands, angry about stuff I just couldn’t grasp.
When we went to the gym, we had to leave because Bidgie wouldn’t quit screaming, and as I was piling everyone into the car, she grabbed my leg, thrust one baby-finger skyward, and looked me square in the eyes as she made her demands:
Bridget: MAN… KEY!
Me (having just about had it): What!?
Bridget (jumping up and down): MAN-KEY!
Bridget: NOOOOOOOOOO! MAN-KEY! MAN-KEY!
Brontë: Why is she mad?
Me (sighing): I don’t know. Apparently, she’s ticked off about monkeys.
Brontë laughs while I strap her screaming sister into a carseat. Bridget keeps on yelling “MAN KEY!”
Me: See? She’s angry about all the monkeys.
Brontë (giggling hysterically): There’s MONKEYS all over the car, you see them? NO… monkeys come to our house while we’re gone. They watch our Belle and the Beast movie and eat all the chocolate pudding.
Me (giggling): Bad monkeys! No wonder she’s mad.
Brontë: Bridge-jit! You can’t have pudding anyway until you eat your dinner! And for dinner, we’re having pasta with cars in it.
Bridget looks perplexed.
Me: Toy cars or big cars?
Brontë (slapping her thigh): BIG cars. Wait, no… we are having rice with FEET in it. Little feet with little shoes and socks on them.
Bridget starts giggling.
Brontë: And if you want chocolate pudding, you’ve got to EAT YOUR FEET!
Bridget (laughing herself silly): FEET! FEET! FEET!
Sometimes, when your kid is babbling something incomprehensible at you, it’s helpful to ask them to “show me.” Many a crisis has been averted by my kids walking up and pointing to whatever they were talking about.
And at other times, lightening the mood could be your best option. Toddlers are innately silly, so it can defuse tension pretty well.
Or maybe someone has an even better idea? I don’t know. I’m just trying to ride out the explosive world of bell doors and mankeys the best I can.