Wednesday, November 26, 2003

This morning I was led to believe that someone called Monkey Jim was in my house.

Youngest woke this morning and asked urgently for "muckeegeem." That's the phonetic approximation. One of the first things you discover when your toddler turns verbal is that phonetics do not apply. What comes out of the baby's mouth as opposed to what the baby intended to come out of her mouth are sometimes two entirely different things. You find yourself instead playing a little game of "now if I were the baby, what would I say?" And then you rattle off a bunch of similar-sounding words and phrases until the baby hears you say the right thing and perks up.

I've gotten pretty good at the game. See, if Youngest and I are going for a walk and she says, "ahmunnawideinnatolla!" you can bet she meant to say, "I want to ride in the stroller." If you're rocking her to sleep and suddenly feel moved to sing the lullaby your mother sang to you when you were a baby, she might reach up and put her fingers over your mouth and say, "nosingingdatsong!" which means, "You have no vocal ability and you're making my ears ache, so please stop."

But there's no context in the morning when she's just woken up, and who knows what Monkey Jim-type characters could have been entertaining her while she slept. She smiled at me quizzically. "Nooo…No muckeegeem. Muckeegeem."

"Muddy gem?"

"No. Want the muckeegeem."

"Money gleam?"

She tried pronouncing it slower for me as if I were a retard. "Muckeeeeegeeeeeemmm!"

"Many… geems? What's a geem?"

"GEEEM! GEEEM!" She seemed to be thinking, could I be any more clear?

"Okay," I said, trying to take a step back and locate some clues. "Should we go look for the, uh, muckeegeem?"

"In sissy's room," she said. "We go find it."

Ah ha! The location had been established. We knocked on Oldest's door, who was grumpily putting an outfit together for school. "Muckeegeem," I said to her. "Translation?"

Oldest looked at me blankly and then put her arm around Youngest, leading her conspiratorially a few feet away from me. "What's she talking about?" she asked Youngest.

Youngest seemed relieved. "I want muckeegeem," she explained. "I pwess de buttons. Pway muckeegeem."

"Oh, okay," said Oldest. She went to her junk drawer and pulled out a little electronic handheld game in which pressing buttons causes pixilated monkeys to jump over barrels to the tune of loud, monotonous beeping. Youngest squealed with glee at the sight of it.

Monkey game. Much less spooky than the idea of Monkey Jim hanging out in my closets.

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