You think you understand language. Then you have a kid.

Red Eye

She freaks when I say “eyes peeled,” but is perfectly comfortable putting THIS in the world.

When she was 2-and-a-half, I told E to “keep her eyes peeled.” She responded by bursting into tears. It seems she didn’t want to peel her eyes.

These days, she understands figurative language a bit better. At four, she can already tell when G is being sarcastic. He’ll say, “Honey, please ask me ‘why’ a few more times. I haven’t heard it enough yet today.”

She’ll respond by squinting up at him and saying, “Daddy, is that a joke?”

Unfortunately, now that she’s figured out that things don’t always mean exactly what they seem to mean, she’s got a lot of questions. Especially about music. Music that I used to enjoy.

“Mommy, how did her heart break?”
“Mommy, did he really lose his head?”
“Mommy, what’s a virgin?”

OK, I made that last one up. I am cagey enough to avoid Madonna. Though, that might only be due to the fact that my mom was cornered into telling us about sex when my sister and I started singing “Papa Don’t Preach” in places like the grocery store and the school playground.

The two land mines that are the most embarrassing are also currently the most common:

1. When she asks me what a word means–a word that I’ve just used–and I don’t know.

Examples include irony, death, attitude, money, country, electricity, and year.

It’s not actually that I don’t know what these words mean. (With the exception of “electricity,” I do.) It’s that I have absolutely no idea how to explain them to her in a way she finds satisfactory. She’s┬árelentless. If I can’t provide her with an easy-to-read pictographic flow chart of the exact definition and its etymology, and do so using only words that are already in her vocabulary, she’s never. done. asking. questions.

You try explaining what a year is to a person who has no concept of “yesterday” or “one minute.”

“A year is… a long time.”
“How long?”
“Longer than a week.”
“What’s a week?”
“It’s… wait. Let me back up. You remember Christmas, right?”
“Yes.”
“And you remember that it was a long time ago?”
“Yes.”
“Well, that was about six months ago. So that’s half a year. Christmas was half a year ago, so in another half a year, it will be Christmas again.”
“What’s ‘half?'”

2. When she asks me why I just said something, and I don’t even remember saying it, let alone have an answer for why I said it or what I could possibly have meant by it.

It’s not that I don’t want to listen to her. I do. But she never, ever stops talking. Not unless she’s eating or sleeping. And sometimes not even then. So sometimes–for instance, when we’re barreling down the interstate in bumper-to-bumper 80 mph Jersey traffic–I listen with half an ear.

“Mommy, I think I have a booboo on my finger. I need a band-aid.”
“OK, honey. I’ll get you one in a minute.”
“You will?”
“I will what?”
“Get me one in a minute?”
“Get you a what, honey?”
“A band-aid.”
“I don’t have any band-aids.”
“Then why did you say that?”
“Say what?”
“That you would get me a band-aid in a minute.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Oh. Umm…”

They say the teen years are worse, but I find it hard to believe that anything could be more exhausting than an illiterate, clever four-year-old.

What do you think?