Gradually, the sphere of influence surrounding our children broadens. At first, they seem to be made in our image, imitating our words, our expressions, our actions. But as they grow older, strange phrases appear. Things they couldn’t quite have invented on their own, and yet now it is their own because they heard it, it appealed to them, and they’ve made it so.
At dinner, Kevin says to Sophie: “What if you came down to my room in the morning, and it was very dark…”
“Don’t scare her,” I warn.
He holds up one finger and continues, “And you cuddled up against me, only to find that I wasn’t wearing a shirt.”
“Ahh! Cr--eepy!” Sophie shouts with glee, but the way she says it—like a catch phrase on a sit com—indicates that she doesn’t quite get what the word means.
“That would be creepy,” I agree, smirking at Kevin.
I realized that he was trying to get her to say this for my benefit. Every time she says it, I experience a strange joy. She clearly associates “creepy” with a feeling of surprise or strangeness, and now overgeneralizes it to any surprising situation—whether she’s being tickled, or going upstairs by herself, or sees a spider in the basement.
But she didn’t learn it from us.
“Soph, who says that?” I’ve asked her, sure that she must have heard it somewhere else, and that it captured something for her, gave her language for a feeling previously unarticulated.
“We all say it at school.” By we all she means the thick clique of all the girls and one or two boys in her Kindergarten class.
In other words, it is a thing.
I like it so much, I’ve started to use it…whether Kevin has snuck up behind me in the kitchen for a kiss, or I’m all by myself and hear a bump in the night. And when I do this, I am charmed by the fact that it is now a two-way street.
She’s teaching me the lingo. She is becoming my portal to popular culture. Kevin warned me the other day, that pretty soon, we will look to her as our technology consultant, our liaison to the post-millennial world. We will need her to translate for us, as we once did for her.