Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is Grandma Disgusting?

Christmas morning. We have mostly opened our gifts and are sitting back, relaxing. From somewhere a word emerges: disgusting. My three-year-old granddaughter repeats the word, a new one for her.
As my older daughter shakes her head, trying to fend off trouble, my younger daughter, wicked gleam in her eye, asks, “Is Grandma disgusting?”
This scientist daughter is the chief contender for the Rascally Aunt position in the family. Not long ago she gave the little one a chicken that squawks. Before that, she gave our son’s children small stuffed toys in the exact anatomical shapes of e coli and halitosis, the bacteria that cause intestinal distress and bad breath, respectively.
Of course the little voice repeats, “Is Grandma disgusting?” Emphasis on the –gust.
I crack up and so does her mother, which makes it difficult to redirect the conversation.
I can’t get too grumpy about this accusation though, even if it weren’t so funny. I’ve studied child development and I know the task of threes: to generate language. To this end, they ask the endless whys, even about things to which they already know the answers. They are driven by curious minds to provoke us adults into spewing forth a gush of words, in the hopes that some interesting ones will emerge—words that sound fun and energetic. Like disgusting—three bouncy syllables, several different consonant and vowel sounds, altogether pleasing to play with.
The room is mostly in laughter at this point. I have tears pouring down my cheeks.
Our son-in-law, sweet man that he is, gathers his daughter into his lap. He will fix this. “Grandma is not disgusting,” he explains. “Grandma loves you. She plays with you and reads you books. That is not disgusting.”
If he stops there, I might recover, but no.
“Disgusting is like when the cat got sick,” he continues. “When she threw up on the rug, that was disgusting.”
I am now completely gone, lost, out of control, belly aching with endless laughter. Those sick cat images… in direct juxtaposition with Grandma. I know this small mind will forever link the two. It’s too much.
And I can’t blame the little one. She is just living up to her potential. Rascally genes run strong in the women in our family. As does the love of words; we all devour books. I am a fiction writer and teacher of writing. Her mother is a teacher and freelances as an editor. Her aunt writes crisp and lucid nonfiction. So of course she will hear and repeat and snare all interesting words in her vicinity. It is her birthright, her heritage. Disgusting? Anything but.

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