Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Beautiful Mind

Unlike some 2-year-old boys who tend to be the strong, silent type, my son is a talker. He talks night and day. (Literally. He even talks in his sleep.) He has an impressive vocabulary for his age, and he is fascinated by new words. And the bigger, the better. “Humongous,” “articulated,” “stabilizers,” and “breakable” have all had their turn on his list of favorite words. But the top of the list by far this week is the word “beautiful.”

I’m not sure exactly what appeals to him about the word “beautiful.” Perhaps it’s that he can say it quite clearly. Perhaps it’s the sheer number of things to which it can be applied. If I dress up to go out to dinner with my husband – heck, if I put on earrings – my son informs me that I look beautiful. He likes to snitch diaper wipes and use them to clean off his toy trucks, telling me, “Mama, now my snowplow is beautiful,” or “I have a beautiful garbage truck.” While watching an episode of Curious George, he will announce, “George is a beautiful monkey,” or “That is a beautiful big yellow hat.” When he puts on his own yellow play hard hat, he asks, “Do you like my beautiful hat?”

It amazes me when he understands how a word can be used in a context in which he has never heard it before. I’m sure that when he’s seen me dressed up, my husband has told him, “Mama looks beautiful!” And somehow from that, apparently he’s figured out that “beautiful” can refer to an improvement over day-to-day looks; hence his application of the word to toy trucks that have been freshly washed. And he understands that “beautiful” is something special, so he describes Curious George as beautiful (a term I’ve never heard him apply to his stuffed monkeys) because he knows that George is an unusual and special monkey. Some things that are especially dear are called “beautiful,” so his beloved yellow hard hat is beautiful.

Occasionally, I am privileged to hear him talking through a new word as if to figure out how it works. He tends to be rough with toys and dishes, tossing them around carelessly, so I’ve cautioned him that some things are “breakable” so he needs to be extra-careful with them. I pointed out that Mama's coffee mug is breakable. I told him that he can’t step on his smaller toys because they’re breakable. I explained that some things in our house, like vases and candlesticks, are kept on high shelves because they’re breakable. So yesterday when we were having lunch with my father-in-law, my son went around the table carefully identifying various items by their breakability status: “My [plastic sippy] cup is not breakable. Pappy’s [glass] cup is very breakable. Mama’s [glass] cup is very breakable. My [paper] plate is not breakable. That [pointing to a glass vase of flowers] is very breakable.” It’s quite impressive to me that he was able to figure out, entirely on his own, that things made of plastic are usually not breakable and things made of glass almost always are. And when I warned him not to touch a figurine on the windowsill, he immediately understood why, asking, "Oh, this is breakable?"

His fascination with any particular word or concept also seems to help him fit it into the correct context because he uses it at every possible opportunity. When the word “happy” was the word of the week, he would ask me, “Mama is happy?” at least a dozen times a day. (Often out of genuine curiosity but occasionally out of pure hopefulness after he had misbehaved.) And he would inform me, “Ryan is happy!” at least a dozen more. My favorite example of his use of the word happy has to be from a few nights ago when he was being naughty right at bedtime and got sent to bed without his usual bathtub playtime. I was listening to him on the monitor and couldn’t help but laugh as he laid in bed and tearfully protested, “I want to be happy in my tubby!”

The idea of sleeping and being awake is another recent interest, although he applies it to trucks and buildings more often than actual people. When I come down for breakfast, he rarely fails to ask, “Mama, did you have a good sleep?” He announces, “I had a good sleep!” after every nap. When he asks if we’re going to church and we tell him, “Not today,” he inquires if the church is sleeping. On days when we don’t have gymnastics class, he tells us that gymnastics is sleeping. If I try to clarify things by telling him that the gym isn’t sleeping, he just isn’t going there today, he nods and says knowingly, “Oh, gymnastics is NOT sleeping. Gymnastics is awake!” If we pass a work site where he had seen some kind of construction vehicle within the past month and it’s not there, he announces that the backhoe/excavator/skid steer/bucket truck must be sleeping.

I love introducing him to new words, and I love watching him try them out, wrangle with their meaning, and quickly master them in every context. It is, as he might say, a beautiful thing.

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