Monday, April 6, 2009

The real reason tape recorders are obsolete

This evening while I was standing at the kitchen counter getting dinner ready, Aslan comes up to me and says, very politely: “Excuse me, Mommy, I wanna be a wion.” So I moved aside, allowing her access to the floor mat I’d been standing on. She promptly curled up in a ball and began snoring like a drunken sailor. If this is indicative of the sounds of lions in the wild, no wonder lionesses have to do all the hunting.


When I was a kid I would occasionally tape record myself talking or reading aloud. I don’t really remember why I did this, though it may have been in imitation of my dad, a communications professor who used to spend hours at home transcribing recordings of conversations with a foot-pedal Dictaphone. What I remember about my own recordings, though, was that I always thought my voice sounded really strange. I knew that it was me, but it felt like someone else was speaking my words. It was weird to hear what I sounded like to everybody else.

This sensation of having my words played back to me has returned with a vengeance since my kids learned to talk. The first time I really remember it happening was when Bookworm was about four. We’d been battling for about year over asking for things politely; we’d progressed from “I want some goldfish” to “May I have some goldfish?”, but getting her to add “please” was like trying to get my hair to hold curls on a rainy day. So we were at a family reunion watching a football game with one of Bookworm’s uncles and a few cousins, and the following exchange took place:

Uncle Keith (to Bookworm, who was snacking away on her usual): Say, can you hook a brother up with a goldfish?
Bookworm: Not if you ask like that!

We have since taken to keeping a little notebook handy in the house to jot down the priceless things they say, since I generally can’t remember them by dinnertime. This procedure is now so familiar to our kids that if my husband or I bust out laughing at something someone says, the kids immediately ask “Can we write that down?” even if they’re not sure what the joke is. There are a number of gems in this book. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that some of the most fun and fascinating things to come out of my children’s mouths are noteworthy not so much because they are funny (though plenty of them are), but because I can tell exactly where they came from. In the age of credit-card sized video cameras and digital recorders that have pretty much replaced my old push-button cassette recorder, the best playback devices in my house are the kids. Not that any of them are copies of me or their dad; they have four completely different personalities, but we can both identify particular traits that remind us of ourselves as kids, or phrases whose provenance is obvious. If you ever want to get a brutally honest assessment of your parenting style, listen sometime when your children are disciplining their dolls.

The playback effect can be particularly entertaining with Aslan, who is quite articulate for a three-year-old, but who still can’t quite manage the sounds “r” and “l.” With two big sisters acting both as models and as competition, she misses nothing and is rapidly developing her skills in reasoned argument and negotiation. But it’s hard to keep a straight face sometimes when her most earnest reflections come out sounding like those of an intellectual muppet:

I can’t have Cown Fwakes because I’m awergic to soy. But I’m not awergic to Cheewios.
Mommy, I can’t find my bwankie. Is it awwight if I bowwow (Spot’s) bwankie?

Or others, like her comment during a recent diaper change when I realized I might need to tone down my verbal frustration at her lack of interest in potty training:

Ewww. That’s extweemwy gwoss.

If her pronunciation is less than precise, there is nothing wrong with her perception, or her determination not to be misunderstood. This one from a few days ago sums it all up—I had gone upstairs upon hearing the baby wake up crying, leaving Aslan at the kitchen table with a bowl of pretzels. She came up to join us, pretzels in tow, before I’d finished changing Spot’s diaper:

Me: Hi there, did you get lonely?
Aslan: Yes, I got wost.
Me: Oh, you got wost?
Aslan: Not wost, wost! Oh, I dwopped my pwetzews.

The older ones come up with some priceless comments too, but with them the odd déjà vu sensation of hearing my own words played back tends to have more punch, often inviting me to reexamine both the wording and the attitudes that I’m modeling for them at home. On a recent occasion when Buzz asked if I knew where her favorite dress-up dress was and I didn’t, she responded with some heat, “Don’t you tell me no!” I have also attempted to break my unfortunate habit of speaking aloud my opinions of some of the less-than-considerate motorists in the metro area ever since Bookworm innocently inquired what a moron is. I sincerely hope that their flattering imitation of my expressions will continue to motivate me to improve their quality.


  1. Yes, Calvin still likes to point at cyclists who are biking on our windy two lane roads here in great falls and state: "he's an idiot, isn't he?"

    Always something to work on isn't there? You're a good mom and I enjoyed reading this. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your blog address! I love it! I too have heard Sadie disciplining her stuffed animals and realized I might want to change my tone!