Language Lessons 101

I CAN hear her coming - the tick, tick, tick of little bare feet across the floor. She bursts into sight in a rainbow of smiles, speed, and droopy diapers, heading straight for my arms and a big, big hug. But no! Her little heels dig into the carpet and she lands on her bottom with a boom.

She flashes a look of urgency, pops to her feet like a jack-in-the-box, and runs back to the door. She squares herself in front of it and gives a mighty push, falling on her bare tummy in the process. The door closes but still hasn't made the click she wants. After a running start, two little hands hit the door with a crash. Looking back at me over her shoulder, hands still on the door, she grins broadly, then turns and runs into my arms for her hug.

Closing doors is very important to my 15-month-old daughter Robin. She overheard a conversation I had with my three-year-old daughter Kim last week about closing doors, had seen her sister do it twice, and proceeded to go on a door-closing campaign of her own.

I'm no expert, but from observation I know that some kids learn by doing. That includes Robin. The door closing is to learn the word close. I know she's focusing on ``close'' and not ``door,'' because the activity has extended to other things such as drawers, books, and zippers. In fact, she closes everything she thinks is open.

Before ``close,'' Robin learned the word ``pickles.'' One day her mother noticed her fixation on a jar of pickles during a trip to the market and said to her, ``Those are pickles, honey.'' After that, it was ``picko, picko'' every time she wanted a snack, ``Where picko?'' at every meal, and a beeline to the pickles during every trip to the market.

Only after she got into a jar of kosher dill pickles when no one was looking and ate three did she abandon them altogether.

The pickle episode illustrates one of the hazards of learning words by doing, but there are others. Last month, the word was ``rinse.'' First it was all the washcloths and towels she could reach. Then napkins and the canary, which fortunately she couldn't catch. All this rinsing was done in the toilet, which is just about the right height for her.

One day I noticed Robin taking a special interest in a design sketch I was getting ready for a very important meeting. I thought ``Oh good - maybe the next word will be `draw' and then all the rinsing will stop.'' After getting dressed for the meeting, I went to my studio for the sketch. It wasn't there.

Instantly, I knew what had happened. When I opened the bathroom door, there was Robin, her little hands and a bit of her nose smudged with green, red, and blue magic-marker, busily dipping my precious sketch in and out of the toilet. I had worked three days on that sketch! A job depended on it!

I felt about to explode when she looked up, gave me one of those irresistible smiles of hers, and said, ``Daddy, I rinse!'' I melted like a snow cone in July.

When I telephoned my client and told him what had happened, there was a long pause that gave me butterflies in the stomach, then a guffaw so loud it nearly hurt my ear. He then told me about his granddaughter ``washing'' his prize koi fish by dumping a whole box of detergent into his fish pond.

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