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Wednesday, July 09, 2003  

Deniece at 17½ Months

My niece Deniece’s vocabulary is expanding rapidly, and I predict that in a few weeks she’ll be as sesquipedalian as I am.

She can imitate any number of animal sounds on request, from bee to elephant (although she merely stared blankly at me when I prompted, “What does a giraffe say? What does a jellyfish say? What does a Rancor say?”). I did manage to teach her to imitate Ernie from Sesame Street, who, after more than three decades, still has that irritating cackle. Now Deniece has it too. Hey, if I’m living more than two hundred miles away from the kid, I might as well give myself a reason to enjoy the distance once in a while.

Her arsenal of proper and improper nouns is expanding as well. She’s still very much into pointing at things and saying what (or who) they are, and I can only hope that as she grows older she’ll maintain her penchant for stating the obvious and perhaps take over for me someday. Right now a guest entry from her would read something like this: “Mama. Dada. Ehhhh. Gamma. OOF-OOF! Zzzzzzzz. FOUAAAA!” I should probably teach her HTML as soon as possible.

She can say my name in its entirety now, which is kind of a thrill. Trash isn’t so lucky. Before our visit over the Fourth of July weekend, Deniece’s mom made her practice saying Trash’s name over and over. With its lack of hard consonants, Trash’s name comes out of Deniece’s mouth sounding like a Native American rain chant.

Of course, the input bandwidth is quite a bit greater than the output. She understands many questions, statements, and commands. She can’t verbally ask to be lifted up to touch the ceiling, but if I offer, she’ll say, “Yeah.” She knows precisely what the phrase “get away from the kiddie pool” means and has become expert at ignoring it. And while she can’t independently answer the question “Who’s the president of Pakistan?” she’ll nod vigorously if you follow up the question with “Is it Pervez Musharraf? It is? Yes, it is! Good girl!”

Round of applause. Rounds of applause are very big right now.

Of course, Deniece has completely mastered the pronunciation of her most frequently used word. It will surprise no one to learn that it goes a little something like this:


She’s not quite a year and a half old, and she says it better than I do.

This may be because she hears it so often. Deniece has been ahead of the developmental curve in a number of ways, and she’s on the threshold of that stage when a child’s mental and physical abilities outpace her sense of boundaries. For instance, she’s able to pull out a barstool and clamber up its rungs onto the kitchen counter in thirty seconds flat, but she doesn’t get why that’s a bad idea. Indeed, she’s at the age where nothing is a bad idea. Unless it’s finishing her carrots, or getting off the coffee table, or any other idea that’s someone else’s. That’s where the NNNNnnnnO! comes in. And that, in turn, is where the grown-up’s walking over and scooping her up comes in. The problem is that her body is growing more quickly than her sense of self-preservation and it’s only a matter of time before she’s too big to be physically restrained from jumping out of an airplane. Heck, only an accident of genetics prevented her dad from doing that just over a decade ago.

Now that I think about it, Deniece might be seen as a demonstration of why the human race isn’t smarter than it is. From an evolutionary standpoint, a person who is able to figure out how to operate a doorknob before he can be relied on to efficiently dodge moving traffic or not fall down the stairs isn’t going to pass on his genes without some pretty attentive parenting early on. I imagine human history is filled with toddlers who came up with incredibly brilliant methods of doing themselves in, rather than growing up and curing cancer or inventing time travel. It’s up to parents to stifle that genius in their offspring so they can survive to one day struggle to the very middle of their chosen fields.

Deniece’s dad, my brother-in-law, has theorized that she’s already approaching her terrible twos, and given her speedy progress through previous developmental stages, he hopes she’ll be out of them by the end of the summer. Fortunately, nobody in the family is mean enough to let him continue to think that.

posted by M. Giant 3:34 PM 0 comments


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