By Richard Middleton
Photo Credit © Shannon McClendon
The devil, as they say, is in the details.
My two-year-old son, Karl, stands before me, arms up-stretched. “I pick you up and hold you,” he says.
This does not mean what it seems to mean, he doesn’t want to scoop Daddy up in his arms. He wants me to pick him up.
For Karl, “I” is “you,” and “you” is “I.”
He’s an extremely verbal little guy, and he’s amassed his vast vocabulary by imitating us, nearly word for word. Because his mother and I always call ourselves “I,” and call him “you,” that’s what he does, too.
“I pick you up and hold you,” he says again. And so I do. “I holding you,” he says, with a satisfied smile. “Yes,” I say, “I’m holding you.”
“I love you,” he says. My heart swells, then I figure out what he’s really saying. “Yes, I love you,” I say, hugging him closer. My heart still swells, of course, but so does my brain, from all the mental translating. It’s a bit surreal at times.
I offer him a cup of juice. “You do it yourself,” he says, taking hold of the cup.
I’ve decided to trust that Karl’s pronoun confusion will work itself out. But when I try to imagine how, I get pretty confused myself. Because he’s simply repeating what we say, every time we use pronouns properly, we reinforce the reversal.
Imagine trying to teach the correct way head-on: “Karl, when I talk about you, I say ‘you.’ When I talk about myself, I say ‘I.’ When you talk about yourself, you say ‘I.’ When you talk about me, you say ‘you.’ Get it?”
His way is much simpler. A pronoun is a kind of name: “I” is just another name for Daddy or Mommy; “You” is just another name for Karl.
“I run and hide, and you find me,” he says. I go stand behind the bathroom door and wait. He comes, giggling madly, and discovers me. “You found me!” he cries.
It’s a lot of fun, really, like living inside an Abbott and Costello routine. And though I know that his sorting it out will be a real breakthrough, I can’t help thinking I’m going to miss his topsy-turvy pronouns. The angel is in the details, too, especially sweet, funny details like this, which I know will eventually fade away.
“Hold you,” he says. And so I do.
© 2006 Richard Middleton
Richard Middleton is a musician, teacher, and writer based in Seattle. He can be reached at: www.richardmiddleton.net.