Thursday, October 28, 2010

Does your octa-nose slobber?

Kids crack me up.

They have a knack for not only creating entirely different words but also combining different meanings in the same sentence -- just for kicks -- and then collapsing into giggles. A language's vocabulary is the playground of their imagination.

While taking my 7-year-old daughter, Livy, and her nearly 6-year-old friend Ethan and his 3.5-year-old sister, Tori, to TCBY for some yogurt ice cream, the kids in the backseat began interrogating me (with smirks on their faces).

"If your brain freezes when you eat ice cream, dad, can you think?" Livy asks. Before I can answer with some witticism, she quickly answers for me: "You can't think anyway! Ha Ha Ha!" Of course, all of the kids collapsed into laughter as I gave them a menacing look with raised eyebrow in the rear-view mirror, which I train upon the kids to watch them in amusement whenever we go anywhere.

Ethan then asked, "Uncle Dave, does your octa-nose slobber?" At this, I collapsed into laughter right along with the kids. The image was too ridiculous and a great non-sequitur. After things quieted somewhat I shouted, "Are you saying that I have eight noses and that those noses SLOBBER, Ethan? Noses can't SLOBBER!"

"YES THEY CAN!" he and Livy shouted quickly, before again squirming in loud giggles.

Livy and Ethan have created their own monster language, too, often saying something to me (or about me) and pretending to understand each other. They also translate road signs into monster language, so I will not remain an ignorant adult for the rest of my life. If I ask why the monster word for "Stop" has changed overnight, they simply inform me that IT CHANGED OVERNIGHT. Well, of course it did, silly me.

I regularly trade "insults" with Livy and Ethan. The "insults" are their way of practicing generalities, testing the mettle of others, being goofy, playing with the language, connecting with another person. Too many adults, unfortunately, take these playful digs by kids too seriously and don't give back as good as they get.

Among the many insults Livy has for me is her pronouncement that I am fat (I'm thin and muscular). She knows that I know that I'm not fat, so it's a playful jibe. I pronounce quickly that she, instead, is the fat one (she's built exactly like me), and she quickly states, "I'm not fat, you're fat!"

The point to this fatness is not fat, of course; it's a kid's way of saying, "Let's have fun." Since Livy knows that I'm not fat and that I love my body, she knows she might get a round of silliness going by stating the untrue, like when they say that the wind isn't blowing the leaves; the leaves are blowing the wind. They find great folly and joy in the opposite, and it helps solidify the real by toying with it.

It's also a kid's way of testing our mettle. Kids, as you know, do this all the time. How will mommy or daddy or Uncle Bill or Aunt Sally or their friends react? These kinds of regular teasings build up their judgment muscles as they watch how a parent (or any other person) regularly responds to "interrogation." They don't mean it meanly. It's almost instinctive in young kids to constantly test the confidence and will power of those who are close to them.

And you don't have to be witty to get their sympathy. Some of the biggest laughs I've seen in kids is when I simply am stymied by their goofiness and can't think of a thing to say. They love rendering us adults speechless. It's a conquest. As long as you take it well, they love you the more for it. Livy loves it when I get that "I don't know WHAT to say to THAT" look on my face or when I shake my head and say, "That's too goofy for MY universe."

Some parents rebel against this "assault." I find it fascinating and amusing. After all, the ball's in my court, isn't it? I can answer however I feel, and I can have as little or as much fun with it as I want.

I respond according to my mood, usually. Sometimes I'll say that I'll respond to that horrible lie (the "fat" one) after I finish a business email (I have raised eyebrow aimed in her direction, and she knows this means I want to have fun but can't right now). Sometimes I'll say, "Poor Livy girl, I guess it's time we take you to the eye doctor to get some REALLY THICK glasses made for you." "No way, I don't need glasses -- YOU do!" she proclaims, giggling at the thought of big thick glasses.

Sometimes I'll answer the "fat" accusation by stating, "Livy, everyone knows I'm built like Mr. Incredible." She laughs heartily and says, "Mr. Incredible was FAT!" She thinks for a minute that she's "won." Then I say with a wry look, "I'm talking about AFTER he was fat and had all those huge muscles. Look at my muscles. Aren't I as big as Mr. Incredible?!" (flexing pose)

"No!!!!!" she says, and we both collapse into giggles.

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