Baby talk

Barely do children learn to toddle across the floor when they begin to emulate the actions and words of the adults in their lives.

Last week 2-year-old Eli learned a new word while listening to his folks assess the presidential election.

“You can’t blame people for voting their pocketbook,” my daughter commented. With that, the toddler discovered his first three-syllable word, “poc-ket-book.” He liked it so much he repeated several times that evening. He may not know much about politics, but he knows it has something to do the economy.

Usually Eli repeats much simpler words and ideas. Sunday morning, as they prepared to go to church, he voiced his choice of activities for the day with a little song he made up to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. “No, church, no church, no, no, no. No, church, no, no, no, no, no,” he sang. His mom called to tell me about his first song – and then took him to church.

On the way to church, they pass a hospital near their home. As always, Eli pointed at it, made a crying sound and said, “momma.” Every ambulance that has passed their house in the last six months initiates the same conversation, “Momma!” followed by his interpretation of the wail of a siren. Again and again, she agrees, “Yes, momma had a trip to the emergency room and it made Eli sad.”
The first ambulance to pull up in their drive-way did not make him sad. It made him jealous. It came last year to take his cousin Oaken – whom my daughter babysits – to the hospital after he had a febrile seizure following an illness. One year-old Eli watched the men settle Oaken into the back of the ambulance and started to climb inside, too. When his mother refused to let him go, he protested loudly. He wanted to ride in that ambulance. She held her tearful child back and let the emergency vehicle leave without him.

Since then, if Oaken falls down and hurts himself and a kiss just does not make it all better, my daughter, asks, “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

Oaken sincerely answers, “Yes.” because as he explains, “One time I had to go in the ambulance. I was sick. They made me feel all better and happy again.”

However, while he may need an ambulance when he is hurt, he didn’t suggest calling one last week when my daughter slipped on some wet leaves and fell down hard, bruising her shin.
Rushing to get some wilted flowers outside before the two boys completely woke up from their afternoon nap, she dashed up the stairs, and saw the duo standing there – in their post nap, bathroom time underwear.

“I was shooing the boys back inside when I slipped on the leaves,” she told me. “It hurt so much I wanted to throw-up or cry.” She could do neither; she had to get the children back inside first. Only then could she slump down beside the fireplace and breath deeply to calm herself and fight back the tears.
The pre-schoolers looked at her horrified. Adults do NOT fall down. Adults do NOT get hurt and for sure adults do NOT cry.
She cried anyway.
Oaken came over, bent down and looked in her face, “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
“Yes,” she said, wishing he would just go away until the shock wore off.
Seeing her face, he promised, “It will be okay.”

She continued to grimace. “You’re gonna be okay. You’re gonna be okay,” he repeated solicitously, but his worried face portrayed, “you are, aren’t you?”
Seeking the perfect solution he asked, “Do you want me to kiss it and make it better?”
Still smarting, she wanted to brusquely say, “No, I just want you to leave me alone for a minute.”

Instead she held her tongue, although, “I was kind of surprised he didn’t ask me if I needed to go to the hospital,” she told me later.

Eli came over to check out the situation. He joined in the toddler, emergency care crew, began kissing her leg and saying, “o-tay, o-tay.”
Neither boy stopped fussing over her until she stood up, proving to them she really was “okay.”

Of course, she hobbled around and felt the bruises for days afterwards, but for the pre-school crowd, if the big person could walk, then everything was okay. They quickly returned to their toys and the world where adults take care of them and never have any problems at all.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter for the El Dorado News-Times. She can be reached at