I I I I I I I  

The Diva has become the Chatterbox. Somewhere around her 18-month mark, the language center in her big ol' melon head woke up, stretched a bit, leapt out of bed and never looked back. Words are coming as quickly as tragedies to Spinal Tap drummers and are just as inevitable.

For the past three months, the Diva greeted me with a hearty "Mommeeee!" every morning when I went to fetch her from her crib. Her exuberant morning hello never failed to warm my heart, even though I knew that I would hear it 400 times in the next hour, as she wandered about the house looking for her next act of destruction. "Mommeeee!" would come the call from the kitchen, where I would find her nibbling at the cats' food and climbing in and out of my largest stockpot (which is, I now know, deep enough to boil a baby). "Mommeeee!" would echo from the living room, as she careened from chair to sofa to floor and back again. Her rallying cry was equal parts "look at me" and "don't stray too far, just in case."

Change is inevitable, especially with toddlers. This morning, when I went to collect the Diva from her night's rest, instead of my standard chorus of "Mommeeee!," I was barraged by "What's this?" while one little finger pointed at every conceivable item in her room. And with these words, we enter the next phase. The Mommeee! is dead. Long live the Mommeeee!

The Diva's been ramping up to it for a bit. Words have been her latest curiosity since before the holidays. Every couple of days, a new one would crop up, ranging from the everyday "milk" and "juice" to the exotic "monkey" and "helicopter." Now, post-holiday, new words come almost hourly. She parrots everything anyone says, which is cool, granted, but has marked the end of my carefree cursing. Nothing makes you examine your habits like a toddler who twirls about the house hollering like a sailor who has just mashed his finger in a winch.

She's no longer content to simply know the word. Now she must also explore its borders. Most of yesterday evening was spent poking that one little finger into my face and bellowing the attending "what's this?" "Chin," I'd say. Then the finger would move and the question would sound again. "Cheek," I'd say. Again, move and question. "Neck," I'd say. These are names I know for sure.

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Then the game got subtle. The finger would land halfway between what is definitely my chin and definitely my cheek. "What's this?" I want to give it a name, a special name for that specific square millimeter of my face. Nothing leaps to mind. "Chin," I say, but it could just as well be cheek. The finger makes a dozen more moves, from ear to eye to hair, then back to that nameless bit of flesh. "What's this?" I can't remember what I've said before. Had I labeled it Cheek? Chin? Will my failure to be consistent this once lead to a lifetime of reading problems? Will this force her into a lifetime of mommy mistrust and psychotherapy? I take a guess. "Cheek." The Diva looks at me then, like I'm trying to pull a fast one. She's right.

I can tell her all sorts of minutia, like the name for the plastic bit on the end of a shoelace or how a step's rise differs from its run, but I can't offer any hope for where some things end and others begin. Despite my facility with words, I don't have names for every last atom in the universe.

This troubles me, I admit, but it is in a vague way, springing from the constant belief that I am an imposter on both a professional and personal level and will soon be found out. My inability to come up with satisfying words is perhaps what defines my life. Or my life's definition might better be my inability to come up with a satisfying hairstyle. Hard to say.

What troubles me more is the Diva's growing awareness of bodies, as evidenced by the recent pointing at her crotch and the crotches of her dolls. That's not quite right -- I find her untroubled body awareness heartening. What's troubling is what we're going to call things. Parents of boys have it easy. That dangly bit down there is a "penis" and the bits that keep it company are "testicles." Since the penis is the 4-way ballpoint pen of the genital world, that one word covers everything from elimination to reproduction and back again. Admittedly, teaching your boy responsible use of the same is more of a challenge, but that is another issue for another day.

It's trickier with girls. Part of me wants to just label all of it "vagina" and be done with it. But a quote from Mark Twain keeps coming back to me: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." Vagina isn't the same as a penis, so much as a place where one can go (or not-again, a different discussion for another day). "Clitoris"is reductive and would make all the other mommies look at me funny when my toddler ran around screaming it. "Bottom" is simply too vague. "Pudenda" is simply too Latin. I'm kind of taken with the idea of "cooter," but that's simply because it brings to mind what one would call a small, furry pet. (For those with one finger now dialing Social Services, rest assured that the cooter impulse will not be acted upon.)

I don't know which choice I'll make. Vagina seems the safest, despite the drawbacks. Soon, I know I'll walk in one morning to find her in her crib sans diaper, that one little finger pointing and the question hovering between us. Let's hope I come up with the right word.
About the Author:
Adrienne Martini has been a theatre technician, apprentice massage therapist, bookstore bookkeeper and pizza joint waitress. Eventually, someone started paying her for her words and an editorial mercenary was born. She has written theatre reviews and features for the Austin Chronicle, blurbs about tofurkey and bottled water for Cooking Light and a piece about knitting summer camp for Interweave Knits. She is a former editor for Knoxville, Tennessee's Metro Pulse and recently picked up an AAN award for feature writing. During the day, she fields freelance gigs and crams knowledge into the heads of college students in Upstate New York. At all hours, she is mom to Maddy, and wife to Scott. Email Adrienne at: shaken@austinmama.com


I I I I I I I  

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