By Bob Meadows
My son is only nine months old. He doesn’t speak English. But he understands a few words so long as they’re accompanied by big gestures. “Yay!” with a big smile and clapping means happiness of some sort. “Finished” spoken with sign language hand movements means mealtime is over. “No” accompanied by a stern look and a shaking head, means keep doing what I’m doing until you physically stop me.
Still, I say a lot more than that to him. Talking to him is good for him, right? It stimulates his mind, establishes our bond, all that good stuff the baby books told my wife and me. So I say a lot more than just one-word statements like variations of ‘Hello’ (Hey! Hi! and Hi there! for instance). I speak in full paragraphs, almost always using my regular voice though perhaps in a slightly higher or softer register than if I was on the phone with the cable company. Most of what I say elicits a smile or at least a glance in my direction. But some statements don’t get much reaction at all.
Chief among these blank-stare-drawing statements is: Don’t eat Daddy’s hair. My son likes to put things in his mouth. I have dreadlocks. To him, this is the equivalent of a marriage made in heaven. And while my hair is not dirty, I don’t think my son should be chewing on it and I tell him so. His reaction: blank stare and keep on chewing. Maybe my little one doesn’t like me speaking in third person. I get that. It annoys me no end when famous people speak of themselves in such a manner. (Typical Lebron James quote: “Lebron James doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase ‘first person.'”)
Sure, I could say ‘Don’t eat my hair,’ but my son who, again, doesn’t speak English, also doesn’t know who I am or what to call me. For now, I’m that guy with the long hair. So, while most reporters covering the Miami Heat know who Lebron James is and what to call him, I truly do have to name myself for my son. I am Daddy. Call me Daddy. Ergo, don’t eat Daddy’s hair. I also say Come to Daddy. With my arms extended toward him my son understands what that means, though he won’t move one more inch in my direction once I’ve made the offer, so I’ve learned to withhold it until he’s within reach. (Don’t make Daddy get off the couch).
I’ve never been one of those people who can’t fathom my parents’ words leaving my mouth. I look forward to someday pulling out my father’s favorite missive: Mess up, clean up. And if it’s not a major cleaning, I will tell my son, as my mother told me, to “give it a lick and promise.” (A quick Google search turned up others who use that too. I’d love to know the etymology).
But these other phrases, I don’t know. Don’t eat Daddy’s hair. Don’t gouge Daddy’s eyes. Don’t slap Daddy in the face. Blank stares and a continuation of the eating, gouging, slapping. Fun fun times in babyland.
© 2012 The Peoples News