Once upon a time, my daughter was two.
Now that she’s 16, she looks like this:
But when she was 2, she looked like this:
And when she looked like that, with chubby cheeks and overalls, wispy hair and a funny run, she couldn’t talk.
I mean, she tried to talk, and she had all the usual words like “mama” and “birdie,” “look” and “MINE,” but she had a hard time with bigger words.
Some kids talk and talk and talk and talk. From the womb, nearly, they put together complex sentences and until age 15, when they stop communicating in anything other than histrionics, they bless their parents with a running commentary on All of Life. The world. The weather. Their wants. Their will. The wild. The weird. The wonder. These are the people who, well, don’t quit until they become bloggers and impose their thoughts on others.
Then there are kids like Abby who are slower to speak. Quieter and, OK, calmer, Abby didn’t seem to have a huge need to use words. When she wanted food, she toddled to the refrigerator. When she wanted me to read a book, she brought me one. When she was frustrated with the other kids in the Sunday School nursery, she lifted the heaviest thing she could find and clocked the other kids over the head with it — THUD! They cried and quit bugging her, and – bonus – her mommy stopped leaving her there. She’s always been a problem solver, that kid.
But there comes a day, sooner or later, in all our lives when words are our only hope to communicate our heart’s desire. And so came such a day with Abby.
She was strapped into her highchair, busy eating Spaghetti-O’s – by which I mean merrily flinging those not already in her hair, down her shirt and glued to her face, onto the floor and to the walls and into the curtains. In other words, it was a veritable tornado of Spaghetti-O’s, and I, parent of one child at the time (psst… one kid is a lot of kids, too!), hadn’t yet learned to ban red sauce from my lunch repertoire. Attempting to distract her from redecorating the house, I said, “Let’s put on a video! You like to watch videos!”
And Abby, bless her heart, clapped her wet hands, spraying sauce in her face, smiled and enthusiastically said, “BULLSHIT!”
Kid you not.
Clear as a bell.
And then she reiterated. “Bullshit, Mama! Bullshit!” Grinning all the way.
Well, obviously she wasn’t saying bullshit. I mean, she was TWO and she wasn’t good with words so even though it was technically within the realm of possibility that I’d said it in front of her, the likelihood of her picking it up was low.
I set about finding out what she really meant.
“Push it, Abby?” I inquired. “Do you want me to push the video in? Push it?”
“NO, Mama,” she replied. “BULLSHIT.”
“Smoosh it, Abby? Are you smooshing your lunch?”
“NO, Mama. BULLSHIT.” Her smile was faltering a little. Clearly, I wasn’t getting it. She balled her fists and smacked them on her highchair tray. “BULLSHIT, Mama. BULLSHIT.”
“Punch it, Abby?” I asked. “Are you punching your Spaghetti-O’s?”
“NO, Mama. BULLSHIT,” she cried.
And I, in desperation and not with a little bit of dread, said, “Are you saying… bullshit, sweetheart?” Thinking, maybe she IS saying bullshit. Maybe I DID teach it to her. UGH.
She burst into tears of frustration, whimpering, “NO, Mama! Bullshit, Mama. Bullshit!“
Which… THANK GOD, you know? I’m NOT the mommy who taught her baby girl to say bullshit! PHEW! and HOORAY! and WHAT A RELIEF! I mean, I eventually became the mommy who taught her kids to say, “you have got to be fucking kidding me,” but this was my FIRST TIME AS A MOMMY, guys; I wasn’t ready yet to abandon every standard, and the idea of teaching my baby to swear was GHASTLY.
So, at a loss for how to continue, I stuck a video in the machine.
Abby calmed down.
I relaxed and chalked it up as one of those things, fairly certain it was a quirk of learning to speak and that was the end of it.
That was not the end of it.
Over the next several weeks, Abby continued to say bullshit, and at the oddest times.
While watching TV.
At the public library.
And when we were alone, I continued to question her. Trying, trying, trying to figure out what she was saying.
Every time it was the same.
I’d guess what she meant. She’d cry, “NO, Mama. BULLSHIT!” And eventually we’d both exhaust ourselves, and I’d quit and plug in a video or read a book.
Until the day we went to the mall.
Abby, me, and her stroller.
We went to the mall to kill time. To pine away at the cute Baby Gap clothes we couldn’t afford. To eat at the food court. To wander through the book store. To make it to the car by naptime. The usual distractions with a toddler to entertain.
This time, though, we arrived at the food cart and Abby went rigid in her stroller. All her muscles tensed at once, ’til she was standing on the foot rest and pushing her body back into her chair. Totally still. Totally attentive. Totally focused. Slowly, she raised her arm in front of her, pointed straight ahead, and, like an army commander ready to give the signal to FIRE — to CHARGE THE ENEMY — in the middle of the food cart full of mommies and babies and impressionable children, Abby bellowed, “BULLLLSHIIIIIIIT!”
She turned her head to be sure I was paying attention, then faced forward again with pointer finger aimed true, and yelled, “BULLLLSHIIIIIIIT, MAMA! BULLLLSHIIIIIIIT!”
I, after weeks and weeks of my baby saying bullshit realized that maybe, just maybe, we might be able to CATCH this bullshit if we hurried. So I, like a properly prepared army cadet, ready to follow my commanding officer into battle and the hell beyond, yelled, “WHERE, ABBY? WHERE IS IT?” and started to drive that stroller like a tank with single-minded determination to PURSUE OUR TARGET wherever my officer led.
We ran through the whole food court. Abby with rapid fire BULLSHITs and me with staccato WHEREs on repeat and at high volume.
Until we arrived at our usual bookstore.
The one flanking the food court.
The one with the big children’s section.
The one with giant cut-outs from beloved children’s books decorating the walls.
The one with Clifford the Big Red Dog smiling and waving at us, which is where we stopped. In front of Clifford, with my daughter pointing to his face, and cheerfully yelling, “BULLSHIT, Mama! See?? BULLSHIT!”
“Clifford, honey?” I said.
And she sagged in relief. “Yes, Mama. Yes. Bullshit.”
Which makes no sense at all because Clifford sounds nothing like Bullshit, but it’s what she’d been trying to say all along.
And that’s why, at our house, we call him Bullshit, the Big, Red Dog.