My city of boys
by David Weinshilboum
My two sons constantly amaze me. Not long ago, my 10-year-old son Alex sat me down and gave me “the chat” about college. He explained that, while he was sure that the community college where I taught was an exceptional institution, he wanted to inform me that he would probably bypass my place of employment and go straight to UC Santa Barbara.
As for Merret, he’s not even 2-years-old, yet he has quite the sense of humor. Every now and then, he’ll remove fake trash from his garbage truck and place said trash in the driver’s seat. He’ll then chortle with glee. Sometimes he’ll look at me, as if to say, “Get it dad? Garbage is driving the garbage truck!”
As incredible as the boys are, I find myself shifting to “worry mode” on a regular basis, concerned that their growth and development could be better. For Alex, I fear that he isn’t involved in enough extra curricular activities. For Merret, I want, want, want him to expand his language use. He should be on sentences, but right now he’s focused on word pronunciation.
Aside from a few words—Daddy, Mommy, and NONONO!—the rest of his verbal skills are a bit less clear. For example, when he wants Alex, he calls to his “brother.” Of course, Merret’s pronunciation of brother is a bit lacking; it sounds more like “bubba.” Some days, Merret wants to get his brother’s attention and shouts at the top of his lungs, “BUBBA BUBBA BUBBA!”—and I think that Tom Hanks as Forest Gump has moved into the house.
Alex would very much like Merret to say his name. Apparently, though, “Alex” is hard to pronounce. But Merret loves his big bubba, so he’s diligently trying to sound out the name. So far, his best efforts aren’t generating sterling results. The Mer version of “Alex” sound more like “Daleks,” so next time you hear my kid shrieking “DALEKS,” he is not excited about an upcoming Doctor Who episode (though his big brother will probably introduce him to the aforementioned show in a few years).
Not all of Merret’s language mishaps are all fun and games. I’m a bit concerned about his singing. Why? When he sings “The Wheels on the Bus,” he is thoroughly incoherent. Mind you, it doesn’t bother me that Merret goes on and on with gibberish lyrics. The problem is, when he gets to the verse where the windshield wipers go “swish swish swish,” Merret screams at the top of his lungs, “TIT TIT TIT!”
Incredibly, Merret’s pronunciation of “tit” is as clear and crisp as Dylan Thomas’ poetry readings.
Apparently, this blue use of language runs in the family. Merret’s cousin Eli—who is now an11-year-old—pronounced “fishies” in a very unexpected way when he was younger. When his mother took him to the grocery store and passed through the aisle filled with tanks full of live fish, my nephew excitedly pointed at the fish tank and exclaimed “The SHITTIES! THE SHITTIES!”
I should know better than to get too concerned about Merret’s language. When Alex was Merret’s age, his language skills remained a work-in-progress. For a while, the boy hated to read because he knew it wasn’t his best subject. Then, a couple years ago, it all clicked. Alex began to read. Voraciously. He read books, comic strips, and cereal boxes. He read morning, noon and night. At times, well past 10 p.m. on weeknights, I would have to pry books from his warm, protesting mitts and insist that he go to sleep. Now Alex uses terms like “forlorn” and “minion,” words I never encountered until my teen years.
Even though I have living, breathing evidence that children’s development occurs in unexpected, uneven ways, I will always think about their future. Still, I need to spend more time appreciating who they are, and focus less on what they might lack.
Just the other evening, I was reminded of how little I needed to worry about my boys. Alex performed what is fast becoming a routine extracurricular activity: reading to his little bubba. After Alex completed reading the truck book, Merret excitedly screeched, “Gainagainagain!” Alex nodded, fluent in the language of brotherhood. “One more time, Mer; one more time.”
David, Alex and Merret—whose boy-driven decibels sometimes irk Ashley, the family matriarch—can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org