One child’s words

by Merran Laver


The first English language word spoken by my son reflected his healthy appetite for food: Yum. Since then, I have been jotting down his increasingly complex utterances.

“My toe has a hurt.”

This short, simple but somehow original sentence started me off on a journal journey that has stretched on for four years, and may continue for many more. The next was a little longer, with the same sort of twist that made me want to capture it:

“He blowed away to help the bee, Mama.” [a blowfly leaving the house]

My boy is barely aware of why his special sayings are being carefully transcribed and kept safely in a big book with bright green covers. Those that catch my ear, that strike me with their wisdom, originality or sheer silliness are written down as tiny souvenirs:
“Don’t tell your ears.”  [a balloon about to pop]

“I’m not sleepy, I’m wakey.”

“I did raspberries on both of your sloppy cheeks.”

If these aren’t put on record I know, like so many facets of my child’s development, they will be forgotten and lost forever. Soon he will be in school, where the learning of proper English will be a major focus. There, his words will be shaped into familiar patterns we all instantly understand. I am helping start this important education, but in the process I want to record the lovely quirky byproducts of his learning. It is a kind of chronicle of both his speech expansion and imagination growth. I want to save them for looking at later, as we all do with photos. To smile and cry over a long way into the future.

It is good to be able to share some of them with others, which is why I am writing about my son’s words here. Every child’s first words express a unique take on the world; theirs and the one we all live in. As they grow, observe and articulate their experiences, small strings of verbal treasures tumble from their mouths.

“The turtle came out of the egg, ’coz it was blooming.”

“Would you like me to cook some bikinis?” [zucchinis]

Sometimes, his responses to my questions have had me reaching for the green book:
“Ethan – where’s your ice cream?”
“It’s just right there, cooling down the sun.”

“Daddy’s gone to Sydney tonight – do you know what Sydney is?”
“Sydney is… a PARTY!”

“Can you pass me the clock please?”
“No, Mrs Time-Head.”

It’s astounding how refreshed I sometimes am by this young boy’s beautiful, succinct sentences:
“It’s a warm, chocolate, sunny morning.”

“I love you all the way to the roof.”

“When the new day is old, the night comes.”

They show insight, great powers of observation, and humour: qualities possessed by every child. Unaffected as yet by conformity to a common language and all its clichés, a young child’s potential for new ways of interpreting the universe is infinite.
“Humpty Dumpty spilled on the wall.”

“I just fighted a cough.”

“Maybe your smell went into jail.” [when I wondered out loud where my sense of smell had gone]

Of course, there have been more than a few not-so-flattering references…
“Hello, Mud.”

“You’re making the room squashier.”

“Mum – you’re getting old toes.”

But these are compensated for tenfold by many affectionate, if strange, endearments:
“I love you, Dr Wobble.”

“I chinied you with my chin, chin, chin.”

“Did you feel the bubbles when I blowed you a kiss?”

And there have been times when a few innocent words have made me laugh out loud, while my child has stood by with a solemn face. Sometimes, these were provoked by a natural interest in breasts. Once, while on holiday, after watching me get dressed in a motel room, he announced:
“There is no milk left in your udders.”

On another occasion:
“I want to play with your jelly baggies.”

“Mummy – can I get a cup of tea from your boobies?”

He is discovering words can be put together for useful explanations of his behaviour:
“Why is there such a big mess around your bowl, Ethan?”
“But…but…I’m not making it – the spoon is.”

What is it that I hear in these brief but different phrases that causes me to capture them forever? Simply, a new, young look at life and the world.
“I’ve got a plan in my head.”

“Come a little bit closer – then you can see its pointy ends.” [a snail]

“Open up your mouth – in the light. I’m going to look at your pipes.”

“My eyes are rich, Mama.” [after being told he was good at spotting things, such as the ‘golden’ spider in the garden]

“The rain is getting tougher.”

“But the world has no eyes.” [in response to being told not to throw rubbish out the car window]

I intend to continue collecting my growing boy’s verbal gems, for as long as I can get away with it. (Envisage a teenage boy in ten year’s time: “Nooo, Mum! Don’t write that down!”)

There are some that will never fail to make me smile, such as:
“I gave you a big, sloppy, boy kiss.”

“Ethan, why didn’t you tell me you’d spilt the juice?”
“I was going to keep one dirty secret.”

It would be fantastic to put together a collection of every child’s treasures from their developing vocabulary, in one giant compilation. But for now, I’ll concentrate on the child in my life. The last phrase I wrote down related to his idea of putting a marshmallow into a cone before the ice-cream:

“I’ve got a mouth that has lots of good memories.”

It also reflected his very first word: Yum


© Merran Laver

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem