I use many, many words that my child does not yet understand. I mean, he’s a toddler with a vocabulary of, like, eight words, so there are plenty of things that I say that fall into this category. Still, I say them anyway, as do most parents I suspect, so that our kiddos can learn how language works and get a feel for words and talking and all that jazz. I know that he probably understands more than I think he does, but his dad and I still feel pretty smart when we say things like “it’s time for his mid-day sustenance” instead of “lunch” since “lunch” will send him running to his high-chair before his meatballs are heated all the way through.
That said (ha!), I occasionally say things to him that actually aren’t meant for him at all. They’re meant for the adults within ear-range, so they are aware that I’m trying to teach my toddler about manners and respecting other people’s property. While he’s not totally down with OPP yet (and let’s be real, we’ve got a way to go still), at least trying to give him a preview of what manners look like can’t hurt, right? Basically, about half of what I say to my child is not actually said in an earnest attempt to communicate with him — I'm saying it so that some adult(s) around me will hear what I'm saying to him and respond accordingly. Whether the response I want is "help" or "an absence of their judgment" depends on the situation, but regardless, chances are, if you are in close proximity to me and my too-young-to-understand-much kid, most of what I'm saying is for your benefit. Maybe I'm being passive-aggressive, or maybe I just want you to think I'm a good mom. Maybe both! What a time to be alive.
Here’s a handy dandy list of some of the common utterances that I fall back on over and over again.
1“That’s Not Ours.”
Translation: NO NO NO DON’T TOUCH THAT. My child is just over a year old and doesn’t yet understand that it may bother the kind strangers around us when he reaches for their legs while we stand in line at the grocery store. However, I’ve found that strangers are much more patient when they know you’re at least trying to steer your child away from their body parts.
2“Say Please/Thank You.”
Translation: He’s never said either of these phrases before, but I may as well still try to prompt him to do it for you, kind stranger! Nothing quite like the watchful eyes of someone unfamiliar to motivate a toddler to expand his vocabulary.
Translation: "Sure, I will see if I can get him to engage with you, so then you can stop waving at him like a traffic cop and trying to do it yourself."
4“Let’s Play Quietly So We Don’t Disturb The Neighbors.”
Translation: I can see that their windows are open, and they probably don’t like his loud-ass toy lawnmower as much as he does.
5“Let’s Go See What Dad’s Doing.”
Translation: Let’s see if Dad will offer to take over for a bit so I can lay on the floor and close my eyes.
6“Can You Give Her A Smile?”
Translation: He may not be in the mood to smile at the nice woman at this coffee shop, but at least we’re being polite about it, right? No time like the present to start teaching manners, and passively failing to meet the expectations of communicative strangers.
7“Do You Need A Diaper Change?”
Translation: We both know that he does. I’m just secretly hoping that his dad will hear me say it and offer to help out, or that the person next to me in line at Starbucks won't think that I'm a negligent mother who lets her child sit in filth — I know his diaper is dirty. It will still be dirty after I have a coffee in my hand.
Images: Jessica Blankenship; Giphy(7)