My oldest child’s first word was Dada. However, her father refuses to acknowledge that as a first word. He insists that all babies say Mama and Dada, so those two shouldn’t count. So, if we go with that idea, my daughter’s first word, was actually a set of words… This and That.
Just after she turned a year old, this and that became her world. For months she would point at everything and everyone and say “This” or “That.” At first it was cute. I would respond by telling her the actual name of the particular this or that she was pointing to, and she would smile and look very pleased with me, or perhaps with herself, I’m not quite sure. But this went on for months.
When she got to be around 16 months old, it began to feel tiresome to constantly label, this or that, especially when they were things I’d already named a thousand times over. I started to consider coming up with new or nonsensical names for the objects in question, but something inside told me it was probably seriously immoral to mislead my child in such a way, so I kept on keeping on, no matter how tedious it felt. Then something happened. One day, out of nowhere, my daughter started speaking in full sentences.
It was as if a light bulb went on in my mind. All that time my daughter had been asking me about this and that; she had really been banking words. All those months of: table, chair, door, sun, refrigerator, etcetera, etcetera, had not just been a test of my patience and willpower; my child had been learning. It was as if that day, she decided that she had enough words in her arsenal to say what she needed to say, and this and that came to a close.
Now, this is not to say she no longer asks me questions. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This and that may no longer be her questions of choice, but that is only because she has more sophisticated and multi-syllabic ways of drawing information out of me. No, no, the retirement of this and that did not mean the end of my question answering duties at all. All day long I continue to answer a barrage of queries, sometimes shot off rapid fire, as if she is testing my capabilities. The difference is that now, when I want to pretend I have selective hearing, and stop answering questions once I have reached my personal quota, I remember that day that my child started speaking in full sentences, seemingly out of nowhere, and I remind myself that she is storing up all the information I give her.
This knowledge gives me the brainpower to answer her as best as I can, as often as I can. I am by now means perfect though. There are days when I feel as though the onslaught of questions my toddler throws at me, is some new form of torture and somewhere, someone is studying my reaction on tiny hidden cameras. So, I occasionally turn on my selective hearing and let questions go unanswered, but more often that not, unless I simply do not know, I rack my brain and come up with the answer that can best fill the pages of my toddler’s growing mental encyclopedia.