How They Say It

Early on in my kids’ lives, I found myself not having a clue as to what they wanted.  I changed dry diapers I could have sworn were wet. I wasted so much baby formula, it could have been measured in the kilograms, for a baby who wasn’t hungry. I spent the wee hours of the night arguing with my wife about what the shrieking infant, the hospital claimed was ours, needed in order to stop her crying.

Eventually my auditory canals evolved and I learned the distinct differences between the cries.  I was able to hear different pitches which meant different things (sometimes I didn’t need to listen I just needed to smell).  This newly developed sense of hearing I could only compare to with the evolutionary leap made by the Cro-Magnon Man. 

All of a sudden, my daughter’s pleas could be answered.  One cry meant feed me.  Another meant I just left everything you fed me in my diaper…and maybe a little bit of it down my leg too.  There was a cry for a nap (by my kid, not my wife and I).  There was a cry for pain.  There was the pacifier cry.  There was a cry just to cry.  Sometimes, usually around 2 or 3 am, I just guessed. No words were needed because no matter how my girls wailed, the response was always the same. Mommy and Daddy answered.

My girls are now in their formative language years.  I can have better conversations with them than most of the people I know.  And yet, occasionally, I am still left with having to figure out what they need or want by their tone.  Except now, instead of glass shattering cries that need deciphering, my kids call out for ‘Daddy’.

Just like when they were babies, my girls will call out my name, and leave me to figure out what it is they want.  No need is too small. Out of hunger, out of exhaustion, when they’re in pain, just to call my name because its been 4 minutes since the last time they called me, having a tantrum, if they are sick, or when they know my answer is going to be ‘no’ and they want to kiss up.  Just like their infant cries, when they utter the word “Daddy”, their intentions are immediately known to me (and if I don’t know, I consult their mom). 

The word ‘Daddy’, according to dictionary.com, should be pronounced “dad-ee”. This is unless you are an 8 or 5 year old girl living in my house.  Then, the situation determines the pronunciation.  When my girls emphasize the ‘A’ for long stretches it usually means they are whining about something (this pronunciation is commonly paired with their heads and arms flailing back).  When the second ‘D’ recieves the emphasis, it’s almost a guarantee I’m being called sometime between midnight and 6am to rid their room of monsters, console them after a scary dream, or count between flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder. Sometimes they pronounce ‘Daddy’ in a crescendo with the ‘Y’ as the peak which lets me know one sister is coming to tattle on another sister.  And when they rattle off ‘Daddy’ five times in a row as if it were all one word, more than likely they are tugging at my leg to get my attention about something important (like can they have hot chocolate for dinner or to see if they can give the dog a haircut).

In Mandarin Chinese, specific emphasis on a word can determine the place, purpose, method and or time of that word. With my children, it is no different (except you’d have to include temper tantrum on to that list of things specific emphasis can determine). Their tone may change but the names they call remain the same.  And regardless of how I hear my name being called, my kids and I know the result.  I answer. Like always. Because there will never come a time, when my kids call my name that I won’t answer, no matter how they say it.

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