Pollen Comes from Trees

Published May 17, 2018 in Warp & Woof


“Pollen Comes from Trees”

How Language Transformed The “Terrible Twos”
William Sundwick
Language is power. It both requires a certain level of cognitive development and enables further cognitive development. The last entry in Warp & Woof that described my grandson was entitled “Glimpsing the Terrible Twos.” Seven months later, at two-and-a-half, little Owen has transformed himself from a willful ego monster, obsessed only with his own agency, into a congenial raconteur who is aware of his new-found knowledge of the world, and desires to share it with others. He’s a “big boy” … and, he knows it.
The first indication of the language explosion came for us two weeks ago, when his grandmother and I were regaled with his order for dinner. He likes hard boiled eggs but enjoys separating the yolk from the white before popping either into his mouth. He pointed to each part before doing this: “that’s yolk” – and, amazingly, “that’s albumin” – what!? I believe he taught grandpa a new word!
Last week, we watched him one morning when his home day care facility was closed. It was a beautiful Spring day. We went into our backyard to play. He noticed the white azalea bushes in full bloom – “flowers, it’s Spring,” and further elaboration, “it’s May.” He knows his months! (He wasn’t so sure of the day of the week, though.) Then, as he noticed the detritus from our large tulip poplar shade tree covering the patio, another nature observation, “pollen comes from trees.” He then abandoned his dirt digging project with toy dump truck and trowel and asked Grandpa to hoist him high enough to pick an unopened tulip bud from the tree, “can I get a flower?” he pointed to a low-hanging branch. He was fascinated by peeling off each petal until he got to the stem of the blossom. A future botanist in the family, it would appear.

Not only has he learned fascinating nature facts, but he knows how to apply them to his immediate sensory experiences. And, he can construct a meaningful sentence to describe the experience. It’s a sentence with subject, verb, preposition, and object: “pollen comes from trees.” This is cognitive advancement well beyond where he was seven months ago.
He is very polite. He has a pleasing habit of asking permission to “touch” and “see” things. Regarding our covered gas grill, “Is it hot?”
“No, we cover it when we don’t use it.”
“Can I touch it?”
“Sure.” When he reaches out tentatively to touch the burka-like grill cover, he jumps back, dramatically play-acting, and makes a sizzling sound between his teeth. He’s teasing us!

Potty training progresses nicely. “I have to poop” he declares – then demonstrates in the bathroom that he needs no assistance pulling down his pants and briefs and sitting on the “Lil’ Loo.” He asks for “privacy.” Before flushing (which requires intervention), he wants to count his feces in the potty. “One, two, three, four … no, one, two” — some interpretation issues here, both answers could be considered correct. Further intervention is needed for him to reach the water in our bathroom sink for washing his hands (in his house, they have an extension for the faucet, so he can reach from a step stool without assistance). But, he has mastered the procedure.
His mind is still so uncluttered. He seems to have given up asking “why?” as a response to everything you tell him that is factual. Now, he appears to absorb it – even after one take. For instance, he asked about the air vent and door to the crawl space under our kitchen addition. I explained what they were. And, no, we don’t go into the crawl space because it’s dark and dirty (and, added grandma GiGi, there are chipmunks in there!). This was related only once. He did not respond, until fully two hours later, when his mom came to get him, and he eagerly told her everything that we said about the dark, dirty “crawl space” (his words now) with “chipmunks in there.”
It had been a few weeks since Owen had visited us at our house. Yet, despite his very busy life, he immediately slipped into the same routine he followed last time he was here. Digging dirt from the backyard foundation beds, denuded of ground-cover, putting it in the toy dump truck, then dumping it a few feet away. This was his routine – surely not duplicated anywhere else. He associates it with “Grampa” and “GiGi’s” backyard. (I have been officially renamed over the last seven months, from “Poppa” to “Grampa.” Grandma Gail has retained her cutesy nickname, however.)
To the best of my knowledge, O has not been exposed by his parents to any scripted drama — animated, or otherwise. Yet, he has a dramatic imagination from somewhere (books, perhaps?). Some of it may come from his life. He was reenacting a scene, probably from day care, where two toy cars on the window sill were fighting for position in line, “I was there first” says the ambulance, “no, me!” says the crane. Or, siren sounds, as the ambulance speeds across the floor, “somebody sick, need to go to hospital,” he shrieks. 
Sometimes, he exhibits his instant retention skills, like making a reasonable facsimile of grandpa’s helicopter sound with tongue, lips and teeth – after hearing it only once. (We did hear a real helicopter outside earlier.) And, sometimes he plays the role of machine, like using his outstretched hand to receive a load of dirt from the trowel in the other hand, then rotating the receiving arm to the dump truck, and dumping the dirt – “I’m a crane.” “Diggers” have always been any heavy equipment like a front loader, backhoe, or excavator, since his earliest vocabulary days. Now, when he uses the garden trowel to dig in the beds, he acknowledges he is a “digger man.”
Among the things he absorbs are values. We had a conversation about sharing, after seeing the little play with the two cars fighting for a place in line. It seems that one of the cars was “Austin” (another two-and-a-half-year-old at his daycare), but not him. Because “Owen’s a big boy.”

He apparently had a satisfying experience that day at grandpa and GiGi’s house. His mom texted us later in the afternoon that he napped for three hours, she had to wake him up! And, we didn’t do anything to tire him out, either.

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