Lost In Translation: Toddlerese NPR (88.1 WVPE) Radio Commentary with Michiana Chronicles


You can listen to this piece on NPR HERE

This story first ran on Mumbling Mommy Blog and you can find it here.


Toddlerese: Lost in Translation
By Heather Curlee Novak, Michiana Chronicles 2013

I was dropping my kidlets off at the YMCA Childwatch today and Jill who was checking them in for me said “Enjoy Your Workout!”  I laughed and confessed I was already at the Y and did my workout at 5:30am that morning.  I explained that I had a writing deadline and two children who didn’t appreciate that, so I was checking them in and sitting down with my laptop in the lobby.  I waited to get in trouble or at least an eye roll.  Nada!  She smiled and said a lot of people did that. I said I figured it was the ‘healthy mind & spirit’ part of their motto. I said I’d like to come and just read a book sometime, but I usually only do it when I’m desperate.  She said she thought they ought to have a nice lounge with couches too.  I would have added a suggestion for “a complimentary wine bar”, but didn’t want to ruin our warm rapport.  So I can now write quietly for two hours without six billion three thousand seventy four interruptions for a drink, a second breakfast snack, a meaning of life question or a fanny wipe. 
I do not know if I am the only mama whose kids mistranslate my words and what they mean, but WOW!  I put a TV show on for my girls who are 2 and 4 years old and said I needed to do some work.  My littlest mistranslated this to mean “Please stand beside me tugging at your pants.  Since we are potty training I will help you immediately.   All fourteen times.  Even if you do this in one half hour’s time.”  Libby is doing great, fairly dry underpants for three weeks now, but me being on guard to avoid an accident is a bit stressfull, I’ll admit. So trying to work didn’t work out today.

We have other words lost in translation too.  “Portia, you need to settle down and get dressed for school right now.” for example.  Apparently that means, “Please stare at the ceiling, create an animal hospital for every stuffed animal and dog toy in this house and if you have an extra minute, streak through the house too.”  I think “Right now” loosely translates to “Never.” in Toddlerese. 

We took  “Love & Logic” parenting classes and this was a great chance to put it into action. I cheerfully told the little streaker it was time to go to school even though she was still in pajamas. Then she fought putting her coat on, but I sweetly said “OK!  No problem, now off we go to school!”  You can imagine when we hit winter weather as I carried her outside sans coat how she reacted.  I empathized, Love & Logic style and said sincerely;  ”Oh, I bet you are cold. I am glad I got dressed and put my coat on today!” As we stood on front porch and unhappiness escalated, I said, “Honey, I think we might still have a little time, would you like to get dressed real quick before school?”  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her move so fast. She understood in a way my nagging never showed why exactly getting dressed each day is crucial.

There are other events where my kids and I do not understand each other.  When they ask for junk food or TV time and I say “No”, they think that means “Ask your Father.”  When I say, “Please don’t hit your sister.” They think I am actually saying , “Poking in the eye is OK.” Or something to that effect. I guess this language thing has a bit of a learning curve for parents and our progeny. Knowing this, I make sure to say the words that count the most, “I love you,” as many times in a day as I can.  Being a little kid and needing to be understood is hard.  I want to make sure my ‘I love Yous’ need no translation.

Adults have difficulties with language translation too.  My husband and I work hard to communicate well with each other but even we misunderstand each other at times.  One thing is for certain though, when he says “It’s fine if you want to go out with your friends/write somewhere/get your hair cut/go to the Y/Hobby Lobby Target Kohls/Have a martini….”  I hear “I love you Darling!” Loud and clear.

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