Vail Daily column: Hurry up and slow down
July 12, 2010
We’ve all heard the stories about how someone’s toddler picked up an objectionable turn of phrase and paraded it around in public at high volume, or managed to transform a practical word like “no” into forceful ammunition. Language acquisition, the husband and I were warned, is a double-edged sword.
But we’ve been lucky. The kid still seems oblivious to aggressive language at this point, and her use of the negative continues to be – astonishingly – neutral. It’s only a matter of time before she cottons on to the fact that language is power, of course. And therein lies the problem: the kid has developed a rudimentary concept of time. We’ve been waiting for her to assert her independence by challenging us verbally – by stamping her feet and voicing her defiance – and all the while she’s been quietly, stealthily working on another approach. As it happens, she’s figured out a different way to push our buttons.
Now, it is a well-known fact that the kid is a dawdler. She straggles, she idles, she pokes, tarries, drifts. She’s a daydreamer in the outfield, a daisy-picker, an observer of routine marvels. This is pretty adorable at the best of times –how could anyone censure such simple curiosity? Kids are geniuses when it comes to loitering, and we adults could learn a thing or two in this regard …
At the worst of times, though, this character quirk is hardly charming. It’s exasperating. And I would be ludicrously naïve if I didn’t recognize that the kid uses this interest in the sublimely commonplace to her advantage. Going to bed, for example, might take an eternity without counter-impediment tactics. Similarly, putting toys away would require a generation or two to accomplish. Time, according to the kid, is as slow as it needs to be to serve her ends.
Or as fast, it turns out. Because far worse than the word “no” – far more vile and wicked to my ears than a four-letter-word repeated without comprehension of its meaning – is the term “now.”
The kid wants a story now. She wants to go to the park now. She wants breakfast now, and this petition endures on a repetitive loop that aggravates me to the point of distraction. The thing about this call for immediacy is that the kid is fully mindful of its significance. She’s not borrowing a new concept out of context, testing it on Mom and Dad to gauge their reaction and build the proper schema in her rapidly developing toddler brain. No, at the point of demand she owns this thing called time, and she will wield it like a sledgehammer if she thinks it will win her some control-bonus points if it tests her parents’ fortitude.
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Somehow, the kid has intuited that time is not a constant. Of course, neither of us are physicists. I’m an English teacher; she’s a two-year-old. But from a certain poetic standpoint, the kid is absolutely right. She hasn’t learned that it is necessary to wait until the number seven appears on her digital clock before she awakens the neighborhood, but she has managed to arrive at a cosmic truth: time is, as far as she’s concerned, relative.
Genevieve and Kelly Coffey share a column on their experiences raising a toddler. They share their mistakes, fears, and laughs along their journey to figure out how anybody could possibly raise a child. E-mail comments or questions about this column to email@example.com.