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The Lazy Grammarian

July 9, 2009

I am a certified English teacher. I was that annoying person who would correct your misspoken grammar in the middle of a conversation. Even as young as middle school, I was known to interrupt my friends with, “You mean, ‘She and I,’ not, ‘Me and her.'”

I still remember when I knew I wanted to grow up to be an English teacher. I was sitting in Mrs. Noonan’s seventh-grade English class and had just aced another grammar test. Not because I knew all the rules we were being taught, — twenty years and a degree later and I still don’t claim to know all the nuances of our ever-changing language — but because I was just able to hear what was correct. So it kind of surprises me now when I sit, unfazed, by the most garish of grammar offenders: my children.

At five and three-and-a-half, I know now is the time to teach them proper speech habits so they will eventually transfer to good writing habits. But their mistakes are just too cute to correct sometimes! As my youngest baby girl is turning one, I find myself resisting the whole growing up thing. I guess it’s that resistance that allows me to see past all the errors and just smile at the things they say.

Some of their blunders are true grammatical errors. “How ’bout I be Zurg and Scottie be’s Buzz?” Simple conjugation mistake, right? He’s five and still learning to put words into sentences. It’s too cute to correct! Or when my three-year-old leaves out the verb entirely when he says, “That what Austin says!” or “That how you build a city.” I end up answering the question or praising the action instead of interjecting with, “No, Scottie, you say ‘That IS how you build a city.'”

Not all of their cutest quips come from broken rules of grammar, though. There are also the results of lazy speech habits, like when my three-year-old excitedly asks anyone who is nearby, “Y-un see ‘dis?” Translated to complete, enunciated speech, that means, “Do you want to see this?” I’m pretty sure it morphed somehow a few times. Perhaps, “Do you wanna see this?” to “You wanna see ‘dis?” to the final result that makes him sound like he hails from Pittsburgh, “Y-un see ‘dis?” But it’s one of Scottie’s signature lines, so we continue to let it go.

There are also the cute mispronunciations that are a bit more normal for kids their age, learning bigger words. A few of the latest cute ones include “calapittar” for “caterpillar,” “imbrilla” for “umbrella,” “pobo stick” for “pogo stick,” and, my personal favorite, “camel-flage” for “camouflage.”  Too cute!

But the very best foibles really don’t fall into any speech or grammar category. The best of the cute things our kids say really come from their sweet, innocent, anything-but-worldly minds. My daughter just had her first birthday. Grandma, the genius gift-giver, sent two travel packs of Color Wonder pads and markers for my boys along with Allie’s gifts. Those of you familiar with this no-mess invention from Crayola know that the markers won’t color on anything other than the special paper, but that it takes a second or two of delay before the artist can see their handiwork appear. Robbie, my oldest, was excitedly trying out the first marker on the page and proclaimed. “They’re called Color Wonder ’cause you wonder if it’ll show up!” Who knows? Maybe that is how they got their name. I’m in no place to state otherwise!

The best came from Scottie, my three-year-old, a couple of weeks ago. As I was changing my baby girl’s diaper, he came over and sat next to us on the floor, helping to keep her distracted by playing with her. He looks over out of curiosity, at the business end of his baby sister and very matter-of-factly says, “Allie’s still a baby, so her penis hasn’t grown in yet.”

When I recovered from suppressing my giggles (it was hard not to burst out loud with laughter), I did explain to him why that statement wasn’t 100% correct. But I love hearing their thoughts and seeing a tiny bit into how their minds work! I mean, what mom in her right mind wants her three- and five-year-old kids to leave behind those few traces of babyhood that are left for the perfect grammar and pronunciation of an adult? Surely not me!

So go ahead, call me negligent. I apologize in advance to their middle school teachers and hereby promise to help them learn the proper rules of the English language…eventually. But for now, I’ll continue to keep the English teacher in me at bay and simply smile at their innocence, enjoying every minute of this imperfect, but adorable stage.

(First published in “Because I Said So” for TheAlternativePress.)

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