Category Archives: language

i know it’s wrong, but…

This is the first year since I started blogging way back in 2007 (wow) that I haven’t participated in NaBloPoMo. Boo. I know I have a pretty big excuse and all, but I’m big on tradition, and this is one of my favorite traditions I participate in for myself. Alas, I think I’ll have to take a year off and give myself a break. I’m not superwoman.

I have, however, taught my son how to swear. This is after a couple of years nagging my wife to curb her own sailor’s mouth (she does have an excuse, as she was in the Navy, and they practically make you sign an oath to drop the f-bomb every few words). I once slipped while driving and muttered, “Fuck!” after which, BG proceeded to chant, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” and giggle maniacally. We have since done really well, though. When one of us has slipped, and he has expressed interest, we’ll say something like, “Oh, Mommy said the wrong word! That’s so silly! That wasn’t a word. I meant to say cluck instead!” Believe it or not, it usually works, mostly because he likes rhyming and wordplay so much.

Recently, though, I seem to be saying “damnit” a lot, and once in awhile I’ll catch myself and use the b-list expletive “dangit”–I suppose in an attempt to keep my kid from picking up anything too offensive. Recently, I dropped “Oh dangit,” in a moment of frustration, and BG laughed. He then proceeded to say, “Oh dangit! Oh damnit!” Uncontrollable boy giggles ensued. He giggled and giggled and said it again. He says it almost daily in the most adorable voice, followed by his contagious rolling giggles. It’s hilarious. I have to admit, I kind of love it. The good news is that he’s pretty aware that he can only say it around us, and honestly, what harm is “damnit” anyway? Maybe a kid fighting cancer deserves to have a few choice words at his disposal.


Filed under language

more on timeouts + a family of sailors

Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses on timeouts. It seems that many of you have used them in a number of contexts with plenty of success, which is great! I also noted that there were a number of poll respondents who did not use them at all, but none of you responded! I’m curious about your reasoning and methods for guiding behavior at this age too if you’re interested in adding to the discussion.

We are at a place where we are exploring other options for discipline beyond the timeout. J and I are both of the philosophy that these new generations of kids are wired differently, that the old positive/negative reinforcement approaches aren’t necessarily as effective on the whole. So we’re trying our modifications. The “timeout right here” is usually BG-enforced, and it’s typically a quick reset, after which we can talk about why the behavior was problematic. This happened yesterday when he bit me while nursing. I set him next to me, and he said, “Timeout right here!” I said, “Yes, BG.” I took a moment to compose myself while he reset, and then we chatted about his behavior. Right now, those chats are primarily about cause and effect. “When you bite, you hurt Mommy!” “When you throw food, it makes a mess!” (He doesn’t like messes.) Honestly, these little chats are really helpful because they get him to start processing–maybe not in any sort of complex way, but kids his age do understand cause and effect, so playing to his strengths seems to be the thing to do right now.

We’re also trying something else we’ve read about, which is sort of this do-over approach. BG has a nasty habit of throwing food on the floor when he doesn’t want it. Today, he did this with a couple of crackers. I picked the crackers up, and put them back on the table. I said, “BG, you know we don’t throw food on the floor. Now, try again. When you don’t want your food, put it in this bowl.” He put the crackers in the bowl. Tonight, when he had some tomatoes he didn’t want, J and I watched in amazement while he placed them in the bowl we had left on the table. We have had perfectly executed timeouts on the food on the floor issue with no results. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, the Mulligan was just the thing to make this lesson click.

So perhaps you can see why we’re interested in different approaches. If you’ve got others, feel free to share here!


And now for some adult behavior modification.

My wife is a former sailor. It’s true–sort of. She was in the Navy (okay, so she served entirely on land), and true to form, she has a mouth like, well, a sailor. I have nagged her on more than one occasion to be careful about her language around BG, and in the past year since he has started picking up language, she has gotten increasingly better. More and more her “damns” have been replaced with “darns.” She has come up with creative names to call bad drivers (which explains why we talk a lot about asscots and jackals in the car). She really has done a good job, and I’m proud of her!

I too have long been fond of choice expletives. I have always been able to switch that off, but there are times when I lose my filter. Generally around BG I’ve been pretty good. The car, however, is my one exception. I’m not one to experience road rage really. Instead, I get upset with myself, especially now that we’re living amongst many more people (drivers) than I’ve ever experienced on a regular basis.

Well, the other day in the car, we were pulling across a particularly hairy intersection, and I missed seeing a car that was coming up on us in our lane. It was a freaky little moment (and the car actually slowed to let me in, but that’s irrelevant), and in that freaky little moment, I let it slip: a quiet but audible, Fuck!

My son started giggling uncontrollably. And then, out of his perfect little mouth came, “Fuck! Mommy say fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” And the giggles continued.

I was in the process of recovering from this near-miss in traffic, but all the blood that had just drained out of my face in fear returned to my face in utter shame. Fuck.

A moment later, BG said, “Thunk!” Which is his queue to flip the driver’s side visor (he likes the sound). J said, “That’s right! Mommy said, ‘Thunk!'” BG giggled again. “Mommy say fuck!

I thought I might die. We didn’t react at all. We both stayed silent, just totally silent and poker-faced for as long as we could (although admittedly stifling laughter), and occasionally reinforced the idea that I had said, “Thunk.” Eventually we moved on, and we hadn’t heard anything from him about it in a couple of days.

Today, my wife confessed to me that she had a moment of frustration when she was with BG today, and she blurted out, “Damnit!” Well, our little parrot apparently began spouting, “Damnit! Damnit!” and then seconds later, not skipping a beat, said, “Mommy say fuck!”

So, um, no, he hasn’t forgotten the word, nor that I’ve said it. He knows it’s a “special” sort of word, and he loves it, despite the fact that we haven’t given him any reaction about it to indicate its power. Certainly it will lose its allure at some point, I keep thinking, but no. No it won’t. It clearly hasn’t for me.

We have truly entered a new era with our son. I adore how verbal he is, but oh. my. god. And next weekend we’re going to see my parents and probably my grandmother, and all I can think is that he’s going to tell them, “Mommy say fuck!”

And he will be right.






Filed under behavior, discipline, language

also sprach Baby Genius

Our boy is being pretty good-natured despite this nasty cold (a chest cold of all things! Couldn’t he have started with some sniffles?). I am in the office right now, but I can hear him babbling on and on to J. He has started babbling this week a bit more. He’s making “b” sounds and “d” sounds, and every once in awhile, he’ll voice some new multi-syllabic concoction of vowels and consonants, and J and I will look at each other and say, “That was something!” We get really excited about these words our Baby Genius makes up. They don’t make any sense to us, but they’re remarkable all at once.

Language development is something I looked forward to the most about becoming a parent. As an undergraduate, I dabbled a bit in linguistics–enough to earn a minor in it–and as a graduate student, I studied second language acquisition a little. This stuff fascinates me. At his age, Baby Genius has the ability to pick up any language on earth, and he could do so with native fluency. Sadly, our only fluent language here is English. I wish I could teach him German, but there are far too many holes in my German for that to be a success.

In fact, I speak what J refers to warmly as “T-Deutsch,” which means basically that I have my own grammar that is based on German grammar, and I have a decent vocabulary, which also consists of plenty of made-up words. This is the German I taught to J. Yes, I taught my wife German–it’s our pillow talk, our liebesprache. We have spoken T-Deutsch for the entire time we’ve been together, and it is hard to avoid using it around our son, especially now that he’s really paying attention, now that his “Language Acquisition Device” (see Chomsky) is hard at work. We don’t want to confuse the boy. As I said, it would be great to teach him a second language so early, but we’d rather it be a real language, not some hybrid of German and English (Germglish?).

This is something we certainly knew we would struggle with, but we’ve been pretty good about using minimal German and only using a few terms of endearment. Here’s the thing though: J and I seem to need our German to connect. We remarked the other day that we have never fought in German, never said anything nasty to one another. German seems to be our Switzerland (talk about international mixed metaphors), so we need to use it, and when we do, it’s pretty magical how quickly we reconnect.

But what does this mean for our Baby Genius and his language development? Well, we aren’t teaching Baby Genius German, but we want to maintain our language skills (if you can call them skills) and the strange closeness we get from speaking it with one another. For now, our inclination is to speak German only when he’s not around, and  avoid speaking German to him directly (unless we’re using a term of endearment or something) and hope that it just becomes this weird tick of his moms’–that thing we do when we want to swear or say something secretive. I imagine when he’s older and he can differentiate between languages, we’ll teach him a little–and very carefully, and only real German.

At present, it’s wonderfully fun to see him experimenting with the sounds of English, to watch him roll these phonemes around in his mouth, to hear his latest “Bah!” or “Ah-dah!”  of “Ah-Mah-Mahm.” He’s come so far from his early “Ah-Goo!” and he has so far to go before he’s making any sense, but he’s working it out one vowel, one consonant at a time. To me, despite my scholarly interest in the subject, it’s pure magic.


Filed under Baby Genius, language