Madelyn’s language has officially burst into a dictionary-sized anthology of vocabulary and expressions. For a kid who was in speech therapy for almost a year, she has exceeded all expectations of what she’d sound like as a Chatty Maddie.
Still, though, some of her words are very toddler-esque, with “R” sounds that are not quite refined and “L” sounds get skipped over altogether (her aunt’s name, which is the same as mine, is Ass-in, for example). Usually, we understand what she’s saying as we’ve also adapted to her dialect of Madelynese, but once in a while there are those head-scratching, eyebrow-raising, beard-stroking moments where we are totally stumped.
Last night was one of them.
It was bedtime, and I was getting Madelyn into PJs and going about our sleepy routine while Bryan was trying to fix the broken Diaper Genie. How was it broken? Well, the flaps that keep out the odors were not working in sync and so there were whiffs of air coming through, that if we could actually see them like we were in a cartoon, would be green and thick. As I was helping Madelyn into her nighttime Pull-Up, I got a wave from the broken Genie and shooed my hand and declared, “Poo! Stinko!”
Bryan brought it downstairs to see if it could be saved for later repairs and Madelyn and I got started on our story. We read a Madeline book about Genevieve the dog who comes to live with the girls, and they all fight about who gets to sleep with the dog, but it all works out in the end because — SPOILER ALERT!! — Genevieve has puppies and all the girls get a pup. We talked about all the puppies and where her own Princeton sleeps and then she went on to tell me about where Golby and Guyee sleep and then we looked at the cute pictures in the book and then we talked about our day and how she made a picture for Daddy and almost spoiled his upcoming Father’s Day surprises for the 42nd time that day and then we did kisses and hugs and then we called Daddy into the room to finish up goodnights.
The time in the chair before she goes into the crib is always my favorite. Madelyn is usually very happy and talkative and puts on a last call show. Sometimes she gets a little wired and best practices on sleep would say we are failing for letting her get wound up, but I’m selfish and really love the entertainment. Plus, she’s always been an amazing sleeper and usually gets back to the business at hand once in the crib.
So on her last buzz about the room, she gave us kisses and hugs and looked back and forth between us and her room and said, “CINCO!”
Bryan and I looked at each other with wrinkled foreheads. She was trying to tell us something. Maybe we misheard.
She sleeps with a stuffed sheep that makes white noise (ATTENTION ALL NEW PARENTS: Buy this.) We pointed to it. “Oh. The sheep? Sheep???”
“No!” she said. “Seeeeenk-o.”
“Do you need to go wash up at the sink?”
We repeated her sounds again.
“Do you need to make sissy in the potty?”
She was starting to get frustrated. Her body went a little limp and she looked defeated. We felt terrible for not knowing what she was trying to communicate.
“Madelyn, tell us what you mean. We are trying to understand. Say it again.”
Desperate at trying to solve the puzzle, I said, “Bryan, I think she is counting to 5 in Spanish.” Madelyn’s body language was telling me I was way off.
“Show us,” Bryan said. Madelyn is really a great charades player. She uses her body or acts out scenarios when we don’t understand her words. She will come up with synonyms too, or even show us an object that relates.
The lightbulb went off her in her head and she pointed to a doll of Daniel Tiger that was laying on the floor. She specifically picked up his foot and showed us his shoe.
“Daniel Tiger’s shoe?” we grappled.
“No! White! Circle!”
It’s true. The bottom of Daniel Tiger’s shoe is white and round.
We still weren’t getting it with this clue. We asked her to show us what she meant. I stayed in the chair of her room while my brain was exploding, and Madelyn dragged Bryan by the pinky finger as they walked around the upstairs of our house. She kept repeating her word and Bryan kept saying it back hoping to land on a different pattern of sounds or pronunciations that would make sense. Nothing.
They came back to her room and we apologized to Madelyn for not knowing what she was trying to tell us. The whole thing was getting ridiculous and it was way past her bedtime, but I knew Bryan and I would never get sleep ourselves if we didn’t solve the mystery word. She was so passionate about what she was trying to say and we felt so guilty that we couldn’t understand. We could tell she was doing everything she could to communicate with us and tell us just exactly what she said.
We went back to Daniel Tiger’s shoe and asked her to explain again. It sounded like she was saying “circle.” Since the “R” sound is rounded out, it sounds more like the “oo” in “wood” to sound like soo-cuh. We got that correctly. She confirmed with a furious head nod that our “circle” identification was correct. She also said “white” again and we knew for certain that she was saying “white circle.” BUT WHY?!?!
On her most desperate attempt, she flitted to the part of her room between her changing table and the doorway that had an empty space. She pointed ferociously.
“Wall?” “Dresser?” “Dust bunny?”
We were wrong.
She kept pointing and it suddenly became a lesson on object permanence — she could see what was not there.
OH! “DIAPER GENIE??”
“Yeah!” she exclaimed.
Fantastic. We understood her charade for “Diaper Genie” but what did that have to do with anything?
Then it dawned on me why it wasn’t there. It was broken. It was letting out odors. It was smelly. IT WAS STINKO!
Through changing clothes, story time, conversation, and cuddles, that little stinker was focused on my word, stinko, and was inquiring about the Diaper Genie’s whereabouts. You know the WHITE ROUND thing. LIKE DANIEL TIGER’S SHOE.
It all made sense.
We explained to her that the Diaper Genie was out of the room because it was broken and letting out stinko smells. She nodded, accepted the answer, and then went into the crib.
Bryan and I shut her door behind us and our minds were blown. She had so thoughtfully and strategically figured out how to go about finding new ways to explain “Stinko” when we couldn’t understand her pronunciation. While the twenty minutes of confusion hurt my brain, I was so relieved to have the word resolved and Madelyn’s question answered. At the same time, we were so impressed at her problem solving skills and attempts to find new routes to get us to the magic word.
Game show creators, take note: “Are You Smarter Than a Two-Year-Old” could be pretty entertaining television and if we were contestants on the show, we would not be winning any big money because we are most definitely not smarter than OUR two-year-old!