Friday, August 1, 2008

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time -- actually more like late July -- Thing 2 began to make up stories for the first time.

In the car while we were driving home from preschool, she told some tales. They all began, "Once upon a time," and some of them went kinda like this: "There was a boy named XXX (the name of her brother) and a girl named XXX (her name), and they were inside a belly and an egg, and when they came out, they were butterflies!" Sometimes there is a girl with her brother's name, and a boy with her name. Sometimes there is a store they go to and sometimes they go to the beach. But whatever the story, it ends in about three sentences with "The End!"

Most of the time Thing 2 is trying to tell these stories, Thing 1 is interrupting her and trying to get my attention while I'm driving. Lately he does this by saying, "Mooooooom! Kin I tell you sompthing? I wanna tell you sompthing!"

Then one or the other drops their water or snack and demands help and I either have to pull over or risk the consequences of making them tough it out till we get home.

But those first few minutes of the preschool car ride pickup are pretty sweet.

As a writer, I am touched and thrilled that my daughter is starting to make up her own stories. And the fact that they make no sense (to me) makes them even sweeter.

Sometimes I'm so busy managing my kids I forget to notice how they've changed, and in the space of mere months, grown verbally adept ("sompthing" not withstanding) and gregarious.

For a long, long time I longed for this time, when I would be able to have real conversations, and send them into convulsions of laughter with a pun or a little wordplay. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed a lot of aspects of having babies and one and two-year-olds, but verbally, they're, um, developmentally challenged. Once that language bomb explodes inside their brains, though, there's apparently no holding them back. At three-and-a-half, I've got two extremely chatty preschoolers, both of whom insist they must be heard.

Thing 1, who is immersed in a CARS -- the Pixar movie -- phase, is liable to tell you that when he grows up he will be Lightning McQueen, only he can't quite say "lightning," so he says, "LightMcQueen," as if it's one word. When asked to make up a name for a toy or a character in a story I'm telling, he'll always choose "LightMcQueen." Meanwhile, Thing 2 will make up nonsense words to songs she knows and crack herself up. Sometimes the song is "Twinkle , Twinkle, Little Star," with "Peanut Butter Jelly" replacing key words in the song. Sometimes she knowingly drops in the word "penis," mostly because she realizes she's not supposed to say this word except in reference to Thing 1's anatomy (e.g., "My brother has a penis. I don't have a penis") and because she knows it sounds funny.

I'm hardly the first nor will be the last in the never-ending line of parents to be amazed and delighted and to crack up at the unintentionally cute things coming out of their children's mouths. But I gotta say this: back when it was all about burping and changing diapers and hoping that was an actual smile I witnessed, not just gas, this once upon a time seemed an eternity away.

Now that "once upon a time" time is finally here, I sit back behind the wheel and giggle along with the kids, and hope I can slow down time just enough to capture their joy in the discovery of having fun with something that costs nothing, but can mean so much: words.

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