Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Bring the Daddy"

2014 has been a pretty tiring year, namely because our daughter, born at the start of the year, doesn't like to sleep when, where, and in what manner we would prefer. Most days I make it through work on the manufactured attention of caffeine, and it seems all I can do to handle the baseline tasks that crop up, with little energy left to expend on nonnecessities (like blogs, for example).

It is in this state that I arrive home each night to an energetic toddler who jumps up and down as soon as I cross the threshold. I secretly hope that his chosen activities will be another reading of The Cat in the Hat or some quiet puffing of toy trains on our coffee table, but he almost always has other plans in mind. "Escape from Daddy," "upside-down baby," and "sack of potatoes" are among his favorite games, if that tells you anything.

It is fascinating to watch a child learn language. Whereas he used to indicate things he wanted with grunts, whines, and points (and still would, if we'd let him), we have slowly gotten him to use words to request something, and many times politely (if a little frantic in tone): "May I have Goldfish please?" "May I go to the basement please?" But these are more or less straightforward ideas, one-part requests.

Our son has another favorite game. It involves closing himself in our daughter's room, then quickly opening the door to find that I've disappeared. He searches our second floor looking for me, but he's a toddler, and he's not very good at following his father's heavy footfalls with his ears, and he's not very good at searching the only places that will hide a 6'4" frame, so it's always a surprise when I jump out and roar at him, which of course makes him run back, close the door, and start the process again.

As you can imagine, this game requires a lot of energy, and it's easy to hide behind my son's limited language ability to get out of playing it. He doesn't have a name for this game, and he doesn't know how to convey the idea that he wants to play other than to start playing it and for me to follow his cue. All the game requires is both of us in the same place, and then we can begin. But that's the hard part: getting us in the same place.

The only way he knew to convey getting us both upstairs was the idea of changing his diaper, so he would say, "Clean diaper" to get us both upstairs, whereupon he would run, giggling, straight into his sister's room and slam the door. After several instances of his crying wolf with this phrase, I began to challenge him. "Do you really want a clean diaper, or do you just want to play upstairs?" To which, when he was being truthful, he would say, "Play upstairs," and I'd let him run upstairs to play. By himself.

But this past week he has found a way to convey what he wants. "Play upstairs. Bring the Daddy."

It's not a perfect phrase, and it probably doesn't convey much to anyone else, but to me, it is the magic phrase that animates my tired body as it dutifully marches up the stairs.

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