Along with observing our daughter D–‘s developing language skills, I’ve also tried to keep an open ear to how my wife E– and I were talking to her. I’m happy to say we’ve largely avoided the trap of the cutesy infantile babbling, though — who knows? — that may largely be a myth. We’ve tried to make it a point to speak to D– in as straightforward a manner as possible.
Still, I can’t help but notice the little alterations that make their way into our speech when speaking with D–. When she was younger, we’ve tended to drop articles “the” and “a/an” when referring to objects. Similarly, we tended to avoid pronouns, sticking instead to just names. Example: “Mama will give D– ball, okay?”
I started getting more invested in language in 2014 when I set out to self-learn Spanish. My tool of choice was Duolingo, which featured a variety of exercises and has continued to evolve since then. Seven years later, I’m able to follow basic conversations and understand simple articles, but my speaking skills are practically nonexistent.
The arrival of my daughter D– gave me a chance to see how a child learns language. There’s a common trope that children pick up language faster than adults. Could that be true? Compared to other children I’ve dealt with at her age, D– seemed quite advanced in vocabulary and sentence construction.
Meet my daughter, D–, two-and-a-half years old, 0.9m high, and 12.7kg heavy. Her hair was a little thin, with a touch of golden brown, and is now just starting to grow out into a bob. Typical of her age, her cheeks are round and rosy but the shape of her face is quite similar to mine. Already she has the hallmark double-chin of my side of the family; but she gets her nose from her mother’s side, thankfully.
In my dealings with children, even family, I’ve tried to treat them as their own persons, with their own personalities and quirks, not merely duplicates of their parents. That’s largely been borne out of my experience with my nephew and niece. If it so happens that our personalities gel from the start, well, that’s a bonus. With D–, I seem to have hit the jackpot.
At this point in our lives, many of my contemporaries in middle age are now parents to young adults. Some have even recently become — great gadzooks! — *grandparents.* So I can’t help but look at where I am and wonder that I’ve only recently become a father, and to a two-and-a-half-year-old at that. It just so happens that my daughter is also now just entering the peak of her climbing stage, and I think that maybe I’m too old to be chasing her all around the house.
Looking back at my life path, it seems that it’s all topsy turvy and protracted in all the odd places. I started with a corporate career first, and — to boast a little — it would have been a stellar one if I followed its trajectory, but then cut it short to bum around a few years, maybe write a little, before joining academe and getting a master’s degree in my forties. Discontentment again, and back to corporate, though much less stellar than the first.
I don’t think I’ve attended as many wakes or funerals as I did the past year. It’s not all been to pandemic, in fact, the deaths due to Covid have been mercifully rare — only two among my close acquaintances, thank goodness — though it’s hard to say the prevailing environment hasn’t at least played an indirect cause in the others. Still, those who’ve passed from the virus loom large in my mind.
The first was an acquaintance, Mrs. T–. She was a friend of my wife. She was in her early 60s, which isn’t too old (or so it seems to me now) but she was in the at-risk category because she had diabetes. The family said they had taken all the precautions, quarantining at home during the lockdown period. But then, a shopping trip to buy clothes for her soon-to-arrive first grandchild, perhaps a moment of absent-minded carelessness…or perhaps from her daughter who was a doctor…. That’s the thing, isn’t it? We can’t ever really be sure where we get it.
After almost a year, I finally went to a proper barber and got a proper haircut today. It was an expensive proposition, and not without its own risk (imagine that! for a haircut!) but all things considered, a worthwhile undertaking. At last, at long last, I don’t look like a neanderthal anymore.
It took many contortions and patchwork fixes to get to this point. Around April or May last year, my wife gave me my first haircut, then once again in August. We borrowed a set of electric clippers from my brother-in-law, then we fired up a tutorial on YouTube. All in all, I thought she did a passable job, but after she accidentally gave our daughter a bowl cut, I could never get her to trim hair again.
As a fan of science fiction, I’m enamored with the tropes. None comes to mind more than the image, Jetsons-style, of happy families playing against some garish art-deco background, accoutred in shiny outlandish fashions capped off, of course, by a goldfish-bowl style space helmet. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I had always wondered if such a future would ever come to pass in my lifetime.
Fast-forward to 2020, which is about as futuristic a year as you can imagine: at least one part of the prophecy seems to have come true, but not in the way I expected. I refer to the now-ubiquitous face shield, whose effectiveness is dubious, but which the powers-that-be have declared to be mandatory nonetheless. Whence comes demand follows supply — so from the flimsy taped-on plastic folder covers lined with creases, we now have stylish acrylic fog-resistant semi-bubbles. I confess, I also bought one.
By all accounts, 2020 could justifiably be called a bad year, even the worst year. With all the tragedies major and minor, public and private, it would be gauche to say otherwise. But in all honesty, I cannot look at it either as an unmitigated disaster. For one thing, you’re still reading these words, relayed via broadband Internet, written from the comfort of my home in what has become my new office corner. I’m alive, I still have the will and the capacity to write, I have the technological means to communicate remotely.
There were various private losses, of course. I’ve lost a few friends to the virus, one being my grade school teacher and the other a baker; and several more not because of Covid, but perhaps an indirect result, the health care system being so precarious these days. Work also took a big hit, all the well-laid plans and painstakingly developed relationships come tumbling down.