Declarative Statement

(image source)

My son has been talking, to some extent, for a little over two years now — the majority of his life.

The thought sort of makes me stagger: how quickly time passes, how vastly he’s progressed. He’s acquired a fine arsenal of vocabulary — in two languages — at what feels like lightning speed, especially since the start of this year. These past few weeks, he’s even begun to make simple sentences in English and French, with a variety of verbs, and that just blows me away. He doesn’t often get the tenses right. But that’s understandable (and I really can’t criticize; I don’t always conjugate French verbs right, either, and I’ve been speaking the language for more than two decades).

His sentences are mostly declarative or imperative (at least in their significance). I rarely hear “Can I have a cookie?”, but “I want cookie” or “I eat cookie” are common. Of course, I realize this probably isn’t due to a lack of nuance or command of a language, so much as the fact that he’s a toddler.

Yesterday felt like the first day of spring, and so we went out, just like I’m pretty sure every Parisian who was able to, did. Our city is one for strolling. For a few hours, we walked around sort of aimlessly. Then, while sitting on the steps of a morgue, we gazed across the Seine and decided to go see some wallabies.

After a long amble up one of the Jardin des Plantes’ tree-lined alleys, we came to a large, circular plot of grass just outside an entrance to its zoo. There, as always, was a large group of wallabies peacefully grazing, or just lounging on the lawn exactly like Parisians enjoying the sun in a park. All each one needed was a book or phone to complete the picture.

From my husband’s shoulders, my son stared at the alluringly fuzzy critters.

“I pet him,” he said, focusing on one of them, a serious look on his face.

“I know you want to pet him,” I told my son. “So do I. But we’re not allowed.”

He asked to get down from my husband’s shoulders, and slowly started to wander around a bend in the circular lawn. I followed him.

Although he listened to me a bit, and even paused once to have a look through the trees that lined that part of the enclosure, he never stopped for long, but continued with a quiet purpose. I heard him say softly a few times, “I pet him.”

And then, we reached a spot where there was no one else around. Only a low wire fence separated us from the trees. My son has never been a particularly adventurous kid. We were always told he’d climb out of his crib or playpen at some point — but no. Other kids seem to grapple onto bookshelves and scramble onto kitchen counters, but so far, he doesn’t seem interested in that kind of escapade. The fact that he’s also sort of clumsy has helped to lull us into a sense of security.

But suddenly, without looking back or hesitating for a second, he determinedly put one leg over the wire fence, then the other. He was inside the enclosure, with only row of flimsy trees to cross now.

My husband ran to scoop him up. “I pet him! I pet him!” my son angrily sobbed. And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling parents.

You could say I’d trusted my son’s cautious nature too much. But for me, it was more a case of mistranslation. I’d taken “I pet him” to mean “I’d like to pet him — can I?” But it turns out he’d been saying exactly what he meant. This was an almost three-year-old’s bold, declarative statement.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Alysa Salzberg’s story.