Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's Mine Is Yours

One part of this parenting experiment that I particularly enjoy is the teaching.  Right now, Kyle is a little sponge, absorbing all kinds of things Jennifer and I tell him, and giving off odors if left alone too long.  We have taught him a few songs, numbers, the alphabet, and how to parallel park.  He seems to be grasping most concepts, and he dodges those he doesn't understand by repeating what we say or trying to change the subject.  He already would make a good politician.  The teaching process was going very well, up until a few weeks ago, when I discovered that he didn't understand the difference between "my" and "your."

I think the problem has its roots in our morning ritual, just before we go outside to watch pigeons attack tourists.  I often say to Kyle, "Go get YOUR hat," and he grabs his baseball cap.  Then I say, "I'll grab MY hat," which is either a baseball cap or a fedora (and whip), depending on where we are going.  Even though I don't stress the words "your" or "my," apparently Kyle's sponge brain has sucked them right in, but in the wrong way.  I noticed this recently, when Kyle grabbed the hats without my guidance, and said "My hat!" when he gave me mine.

"No, Kyle," I said once I realized his mistake, "You don't say my hat is 'my hat;' you say my hat is 'your hat.'  When you say 'my hat' correctly, you are talking about your hat.  Got that?" 

Kyle then said something about food.  This was not going to be an easy lesson. 

This sort of thing continued for several more days, until I convinced him to say "Daddy's hat" and "Kyle's hat."  I figured that would buy me some time until I worked out a better way to get him to understand what I meant.  It was by no means a solution to the problem, as the "my-your" confusion extended beyond headgear.

Shortly after my discovery, we visited our new neighbors downstairs, who have a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.  I was talking with their dad when the girl told me that Kyle wants to take all the boy's toys.  I looked over and saw Kyle hovering over a pile of the boy's Legos, saying, "My toy.  My toy.  My toy," as he pointed at each block.  The boy shouted back "NOOOO!"  Suddenly it became clear to me why Kyle still doesn't have any friends.  I tried to explain that Kyle actually meant "your toy" but I don't think anyone really believed me.  The boy still hugged his toys, believing Kyle was going to grab them from him.  Kyle has done this with other kids, and around the neighborhood he is developing a reputation of being a selfish hoarder, though he's simply trying to tell people what stuff is theirs.

As I try to break him from this confusion, I am carefully choosing my words, but it's not easy.  Just the other day, as Kyle brushed his teeth, he pointed at me, signaling that I should grab a toothbrush and join in the fun.

"Sure," I said, "I'll go get my-" Then I paused.  How's he going to learn "my" if I keep using it to refer to my stuff?  I thought.
"I mean," I then said, "I'll go get what YOU say is YOUR-" I paused again.  You're getting too confusing, Dave.  What then will you say when you actually mean YOUR?  Hear that?  It's your brain exploding.
"Ummm," I continued, "Daddy will go get his toothbrush."  I shook my head in disgrace as I stood up from my seat.  Great.  Our son is going to start talking in third person, just like Elmo.  That's all we need in this apartment: another Elmo.  One is bad enough.  Another could trigger a nervous breakdown.

I'm guessing we'll figure this out eventually.  I can't imagine him going on a date without knowing the difference between "my" and "your" ("Hey, baby, can I have my number?"), or trying to get a job ("As you can see from your resume, I'm more than qualified to work at my company.").  I've tried telling him, "When you say 'my' you mean 'Kyle's' and when you say 'your' you mean 'Daddy's.'"  That seems to be helping him a little bit, though now I wonder what will happen when he tries to give his mommy a hat.  Your guess is as good as mine.

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