My Personal Parrot

by Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Originally Published: 

At two, our son is talking a lot. Especially at home. Sometimes, he will go on for two full minutes, babbling about random strings of thoughts he puts together. I can pick out enough words here and there to figure out the gist of what he’s saying and comment meaningfully.

Oh, really?

Is that so?


My husband and I are starting to realize exactly how much of a sponge he is, soaking up every word and repeating everything we say like an oversized, de-feathered parrot. As it is, I have been practicing alternative swear words for quite some time now. Ridiculous and dorky-sounding phrases like “Aw, shucks” and “shoot” have replaced, for the most part, less-ladylike and – um – colorful words I may or may not have used in the past… and my son’s favorite one, the one that makes him giggle loudly when I say it with feeling: “Mother of PEARL.”

A few nights ago, the three of us were sitting at the dinner table and my husband was telling me about his triumph in metal recycling.

“Remember how much grief you gave me about saving all of those cans in the garage?” he says.

“Mmmmm-hmmm,” I agree, spooning out the Brussels sprouts, to which my son wails Noooo bussel spouts over our conversation. I remember the piles of aluminum marring the otherwise-immaculate interior of our garage. Fine, whatever, so the garage was already messy. I still didn’t love the piles of cans in my son’s wooden Radio Flyer wagon.

“I got fourteen dollars for those two bags. Plus seven bucks for the old radiator from the car.”

“Seven bucks, seven bucks,” our toddler chants gleefully. As of this week, his monologue now contains a refrain of “seven bucks” plus the inexplicable “four times” along with other cryptic words and phrases only he understands.

As a kid, my full-blooded Italian grandmother taught my sister and I how to say the most random phrases in her musical language, like “I’m single with two kids” or “you have an ugly face” or “F you and your whole family”. My mom would laugh and say, “Great. Now you have to tell them what it means.” I can still tell you how to say, in Sicilian slang, “large [male genital part]”. My grandmother would laugh so hard she would have tears in her eyes. I can’t even tell you how to spell it, but I can say it. I found it especially useful to know how to say, “I’ll break your face” in Sicilian dialect. It has that mafia ring to it.

My husband, who comes from a very proper English ancestry, and then six generations of genteel Texans, is mortified when I discuss this rare skill. He cannot fathom the idea of talking about some of the things I talked about with my grandmother and my mother. I’ll tell my personal parrot some of these things later, when he can understand. And we’ll laugh with his grandmother about it, just like I did.

A few weeks ago, we were using Facetime with my sister and three nieces, and my sister was telling me about the color of her new front door: Black Fox. My toddler dutifully repeated “black fox” and it sounded a little – strike that – a lot like a certain four-letter word.

Go ahead and try it out loud. And say “fox” with a British accent.

My sister and I, separated by hundreds of miles and an iPhone, started laughing our heads off. It’s especially amusing when he gets right up into the grill of the camera and says it. My husband tells me that what is amusing now is not going to be amusing later, and I’m sure that’s true. Just like I’m not supposed to laugh when he passes gas or burps; my son and I titter and my husband glares at me.

We’ll let his kindergarten teacher correct that later.

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