Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Cause and Effect, Slapping, and Ibrahim

One of the earliest forms of communication I’ve had with my kids is by making silly noises with my mouth. At a certain point they’ll imitate these noises and then we’re off, discussing I-don’t-know-what, though I’m fairly certain they do. Some of this is so inane that it isn’t even dialogue, but more cause and effect, such as when I puff out one cheek with air and encourage the kid to smack it, producing a raspberry noise from my mouth. They get a big kick out of this. It teaches them that their actions have funny consequences, and how to slap me.

Interlude: When we were young, my mother’s threat to my siblings and me in times of frustration was that she was going to “slap your ugly face.” She never once slapped our ugly faces, a testament to her restraint, for there were certainly times when my ugly face deserved slapping.

Silly noises may not seem the best way to introduce toddlers to the wonder of the spoken language, but just look at your audience. It’s a baby. What’s sillier than a baby with their snaggle-toothed grin, drool, fat-rolled legs and barely-controlled limbs and bowels. They’re lucky anybody’s talking to them at all, much less making lip farts at them and allowing them to slap you. Incidentally, babies slapping you is funny, but you slapping babies is not funny at all. Not funny unless they know how to fill up a cheek with air and then release it at the point of impact. Be sure to teach your children the importance of timing in comedy.

Another way to introduce your babies to the wonder of the spoken language is through Spanish because, really, what is a foreign language other than a bunch of silly noises? Tonight, GK and I were listening to Ibrahim Ferrer sing his wonderful ballads of Cuba or, as those of us speaking English in this house heard, his silly noises. GK was mesmerized, just as I am when I hear Signor Ferrer sing, and her eyes opened wide, she tilted her head to the side as she does when she’s happy, and then she smacked me. Right on the cheek. And I stuck my tongue out and spit at her and she laughed and laughed. And there we were having a conversation, something about political persecution on communist-controlled islands, I believe, which doesn’t seem as funny when read in black-and-white.

Interlude: I was in New Orleans with Uncle Toby for my industry’s annual convention in the summer of 2005, just two weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit, when we heard that Ibrahim Ferrer had passed away. Just after that we heard his mellifluous voice over a transistor radio in a tiny little store we’d stopped in for a couple of bottles of beer. And then we had a moment of silence. Actually, I had a weekend of silence, and do you know why? Because my kids weren’t there. It turns out that once they become intrigued by the spoken word, and once they’ve mastered it, or learned some of it anyway, they never stop practicing. They just talk and talk and talk … one silly sound after another.

A very recent conversation between GK and myself:

GK: Ooh.
Me: Ooh.
GK: Ah.
Me: Ah.
GK: Eeeeee.
Me: Eeeeee
GK: Phhhhtttt
Me: HAHAHAHAHA (guess you had to be there)
GK: Mamamamama
Me: Dadadadadada
GK: Oooh.
Me: Oooh.