When you’re a stay-at-home parent, you figure you’re probably going to brush off on your kid, for better or for worse. Not just the big things — I think all parents must expect (and hope for or dread) that — but the little habits and gestures, maybe the neuroses, the things anyone who’s with you pretty much 24/7 couldn’t help but notice. And then you start to see that, sure, your progeny might have taken on some of your personality traits (like finding nothing more exquisite than a piece of buttered toast in the morning), but other parts of their own evolving personality seem to have come from nowhere.
At nearly one and a half years old, Julien is starting to amass quite the vocabulary in both French and English. But sadly, he can’t answer some questions I’m dying to ask him.
Like why is that, despite the fact that we’ve always referred to his binky as a tututte, a French baby word, he’s chosen to call it a tétine — the French grown-up word for “pacifier” — a term he’s almost never heard us say aloud?
Or why, after drinking from his sippy cup, does he set it down, wait a few seconds and make a satisfied “ahh!” sound right out of a soft drink commercial? Actually, that may be a sort of outdated reference: There haven’t been any recent soft drink commercials here that show anyone doing this. Maybe the boyfriend or I have done it a few times, if we were really thirsty — I mean, who hasn’t? But was that enough for Julien to register and repeat?
Why, when he’s really happy, does he sit on the ground and make circles with his butt? My mom’s pointed out that he sort of looks like a chimpanzee when he does it, which is hilarious and true. So maybe it’s just a primate thing?
How did Julien develop a sense of humor? This might be the question that most fills me with curiosity and wonder. One day, he’s a wrinkled little newborn lump who’s exhausted by even drinking a bottle, and the next he’s slyly watching me out of the corner of his eye, waiting for the right moment to whisper “chats” (“cats”) while looking up at the whale mobile my sister got him, and waiting for me to correct him with a laughing “No, whales!”
Okay, it’s not the greatest joke in the world, but it’s a start. And it does make his audience crack up every time.
One thing that doesn’t make me laugh is his insistence on trying to chew on the flip flops I wear as slippers. Gross. He has teething toys and that aforementioned pacifier — so what’s the deal?
And what’s with his fixation on the book of Gauguin prints that’s stacked in the middle of my beloved art books on our bookshelf? Is it because it’s the only one with an orange spine? Or does Julien just have advanced tastes for his age?
And am I a prude if I feel sort of uncomfortable with him gazing at young Tahitian and Marquesan girls exposed in sometimes vulnerable poses? I am seriously wondering about this — it haunts my nights. One of the reasons my art books are on the shelf in the living room is so that anyone who wants to can look at and enjoy them, and I want Julien to grow up leafing through them. But why those provocative Gauguins instead of, say, the family-friendly Van Goghs, or the genial Douanier Rousseaus?
“She needs to chill.” “Totally.”
[Paul Gauguin’s Two Tahitian Women with Mango Blossoms. 1899. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA. Photo and caption information courtesy of the kickass site Olga’s Gallery:http://www.abcgallery.com/G/gauguin/gauguin-4.html]
I recently solved one of Julien’s mysteries. For a long time, he’s been making what we often refer to as “the demon voice” — this incredibly deep, creepy string of sounds. And then one day, we were reading one of our favorite books, Roulé le loup ! (which I read in English and call the much less punny Grandma Tricks the Wolf), when it dawned on me: I’ve been doing the voices for this book ever since we first discovered it, when Julien was only a few months old. My wolf voice sounds pretty darn close to the demon voice, with a few howls added for good measure. So all along, it seems, Julien has just been imitating me imitating a menacing wolf. The realization was both a relief, and a touching moment. It is pretty cool when your kid seems to like something you do.
But so many other questions remain unanswered. Why does Julien seem to know exactly what we mean when we say the word “ball” in either English or French, but refuse to call said object anything other than “uh-oh”? I know where the confusion started; never before having a kid did I realize just how much Anglophones — or Americans, at least — say “uh-oh” when tossing or rolling a ball around with a little kid. The ball gets stuck somewhere: “Uh oh!” The kid (or, more often, I) aim(s) wrong: “Uh oh!” And so on. Julien seems to think this word is a synonym for “ball” — but sometimes I wonder if he insists on using it because he thinks it’s a more precise term or something? Or is he just refusing to say “ball” to screw with us?
Or maybe he’s just taking advice from a famous carving by his buddy Gauguin: “Be mysterious”.