“Utha Tessie,” says baby, now 18 months old. Then she bends over and farts. “Toots.”
Amazingly, I know what she’s talking about. “Yes, that’s our other kitty. And you tooted.”
Sometimes, I’m not so lucky:
“Mommy, agua no-no utha beeb.”
“No-no utha beeb. Agua.”
Rinse and repeat twice until my daughter is in tears because her dumbass mother can’t comprehend one Godforsaken sentence. At those moments, her need could not be greater. Clearly, whatever she is asking for would fulfill some basic need that is imperative to meet immediately. Then I figure out that she’s trying to tell me she shouldn’t spill water on her bib or we’ll have to get another one.
Watching Baby learn to talk has been one of the most amazing parts of parenting thus far, and the weirdest. Suddenly, it seemed, this tiny alien was walking around my house, pointing at things and saying facsimiles of their names. Then she was stringing those things together to make original ideas that express needs, wants, and statements of fact: “Mommy bell” = “Mommy has a belly.” Yes, yes I do.
Trying to communicate with her is what I imagine it might be like living with a foreign exchange student, albeit a really cute, whiny one with very shiny hair. You want to encourage the learning process and make the student feel comfortable, but sometimes, after a hard day, you just want to say, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? Can you just point to it? Christ!”
Only, you can’t do that. Instead, you repeat whatever it is you think she’s saying. Over. And over. I think we get about 80% hits, but that other (“utha”) 20% exacts a few pounds of flesh. For instance, Baby wants a certain food. I think it’s blueberries, because yesterday she was saying “bluers” when she was eating them. I very confidently extract the blueberries from the refrigerator, expecting Baby’s slightly guttural “I am about to get what I want” laugh, but instead, I get the high-pitched whine. “No, no!” she says. No, no? What the fuck? “Blueberries,” I say. “No, no,” she says.
“What do you want, Baby?”
“Yes, these?” I show her.
Insult to injury. “No, no!!!” She stomps away and collapses onto the carpet. She throws very sensible tantrums.
“Use your words,” I say. What? I think. She is using her words, dumbass.
“Bluerberrs. Bluerberrs.” In a final desperate attempt, she tugs at the refrigerator door handle. I open it. She points to the strawberries.
Son of a bitch. Really? “Oh, strawberries,” I say, “Strawberries.”
“Strberrs,” she says.
I went to Germany when I was in high school, and I remember having to order food at the deli counter for lunch. My Deutsch was pretty good, but one day I got something wrong and watched in horror and confusion as the deli man grabbed a wurst that was not the wurst I wanted. It was far too pale and utterly wrong, but I didn’t have the words (other than, “Nein, nein!”) to tell him. I politely took my disgusting meat and left; however, if I were 18 months old or an 80s hair band star, I might pitch a pretty good fit until I got what I wanted, too.
On those days when we have string after string of misunderstandings and she’s started to give up on me and ask for “Utha Mommy,” I can only try to redeem myself.
“Purple posa on, no dojees night-night.”
“You want your purple butterfly pajamas, not the doggy ones?”
Gutteral laugh. Redemption.
“Chaya Mommy moh bok night-night.”