Monday, August 17, 2009

Unpack your adjectives

A few holiday dinners ago E called me fat in front of a pile of extended friends and family. She didn't mean it negatively but the room got suddenly and awkwardly quiet. She and I had been having a comparison conversation. She told me I was so big. I told her she was huge. She told me I was tall. I told her she was large. She told me I was fat.

And all sound stopped.

But E didn't mean anything other than that she was trying a new word in context. Learning language can bring some awkward moments.

When we were at the beach last month we saw little people. E had never seen little people before. Is that the right way to type it? Should it be 'Little People?' Because that makes me think of Fisher Price, and that can't be appropriate, either. I mean, with perhaps much clumsiness but without any intended offense, people of short stature formerly known as midgets. So we saw a little people couple holding hands and walking on the boardwalk and E, meaning no malice but still being loud and 3, pointed and yelled: Mama! What are they? Are they grownups?

Learning social mores can bring some awkward moments.

One evening last week I took E to see an outdoor concert. There are signs in our neighborhood advertising the Songs of Summer free concert series on the hill between two strip malls and E's been asking about them. Finally, I took her. We went to see The Swingin' Swamis. While they sang swing music and blues and bluegrass E and maybe a hundred other kids danced in the grass by the light of the moon and the parking lot lights. A heavyset girl of maybe six or seven had trouble climbing up the hill past us to her family. E pointed at her and asked too loudly, Mama? Is she a little person? No, I had to explain, she's just overweight. What? She's heavy, honey. What?

[oh, boy]

"She's fat, loves. Do you remember that word we've talked about before that can mean a person who has too much body on their body because of being unhealthy? The word that explains how a person is but doesn't always sound nice? That's what that girl is, honey. She's not a little person. She's fat."

[ouch]

Oh. I get it!

She resumed her dancing. And I sat on the grass watching her healthy body spin and twirl, marveling at her curiosity and her innocence, and cringing at all the words I had just spoken.

And then, in a stroke of absolutely remarkable timing, the band began singing a song called "Big Fat Daddy." E ran quickly back to me.

Mama! Mama! They're saying the word 'fat!' That's the word that's not nice to people but they're singing it and singing it and MAMA! THEY SAID IT AGAIN!

[I am not doing this well]

Treading very lightly over the sexual innuendos of the lyrics I fumblingly explained that if you know a person well maybe you can use an otherwise not-flattering word in a teasing way if you are speaking with love. I said, "like how I call you a 'silly goose goose.' But you're not a goose, are you? And you're definitely not a goose Goose, right?"

So I can't call that girl fat because it's not nice because I don't know her but if I love people I can call them fat?

"Well, not exactly. I think in this song the woman is just saying that the man is very yummy to her. She really likes him. So she calls him 'big fat daddy' in a teasing way. Now she's singing about putting her arms around him. She wants to hug him! And she's saying how big he is to show how big her hug will be."

I'm going to go dance some more now.

Off the hook, I thought, but I had no idea how much she had absorbed. She danced for as long as I'd let her, though, until I gave a three-song warning and we finally went home. My little goose goose needed to go to sleep.

We got home and the lovely husband picked her up and spun her around the kitchen. "Did you have fun tonight, sweetheart?"

Yes! But Daddy, are you a big fat daddy? Because I want to hug you before Mommy takes me to bed. Pin It