Posted by: CJ | February 19, 2009

Adventures in toddler legalism

I’ll probably occasionally post stories about when I was young on this blog just so I don’t forget them. And, I suppose, so friends who know me can laugh really hard at how I’ve simultaneously changed so little and so much from then. But this one actually has a point, which will become clear in the next post.

A story that’s been on my mind for a few days is one from when I was very young. When I was 3 or 3 and 1/2, according to my mom. The story itself is pretty simple. I did something or another wrong and my parents were getting ready to punish me. They were going to spank me, until I made the argument that spanking me would “only show you’re bigger, not that you’re right.”

In the face of that sort of toddler legalism my parents quickly realized several things. They weren’t altogether keen on spanking, and were even less keen when their son was making an extremely good objection to it. Besides, if I already was having counter-culture, anti-authoritarian tendencies they might as well encourage it so they didn’t have to teach it to me later. And they really didn’t want to set an example of punishing precocious reasoning powers.

But the weird thing to onlookers is that the story never seemed particularly strange to me until years later. I was upset at something and so I put together a coherent argument about what upset me and presented it. Simple as could be, to my mind. It wasn’t until years later, when my mom said that she didn’t think kids twice my age would have been able to article that thought even if they could think it, that I started to realize it was another of my abnormal episodes of youth.

This story popped into my head because of a wondermark comic I read yesterday. It reminded me of sometime recently, in the past few months I think, when I was complaining about how adults talk to babies and toddlers. I was ranting about how it was unbecoming, insulting to both child and adult, and the sickening thing was the child was too clueless to realize the injustice and start picketing for equality. Or something. Anyways, the poor soul I was ranting to timidly pointed out that maybe it made sense because the children just weren’t capable of processing the way adults spoke and thought yet. I began to retort, but was stopped by a lightbulb suddenly turning on in my head. Somehow it had just never occured to me before that such babytalk was potentially a semi-necessary intermediary step between crying mound of flesh and evil elementary school pod person.

I’m still in the process of meditating on this, but it makes me  more sure that the western pantheon of divine powers got it wrong when they didn’t include a trickster god, or at least a trickster saint.



  1. I have a bad cold, and you caused me to nearly cough to death when I started laughing at “evil elementary school pod person.” Really, you should consider your audience. Maybe it would just be manslaughter, but I still think it wouldn’t look good on your resume: killed matriarch with good line.

    Depends on how you’re defining baby talk–if you mean simpler sentence structures, slightly higher pitched voice, familiar words & introducing new vocab with slowly–yea, that’s how babies/toddlers acquire language & syntax. (research suggests babies hear higher sounds more easily, differentiating the variations more clearly)

    If you mean cutsey-wutsey widdle wordies for the cutsey-wutsey widdle baby–bull. Babies don’t learn from that, or at least not anything they need to learn to speak well.

    But realize that you’re heavily influenced by having two parents with strong vocabularies who expected you and your sisters to follow along or ask for explanation. Hence, all of you conversed in a fairly articulate fashion at young ages–even though their speech was delayed, both of them progressed very fast once they started, and had huge listening vocabularies even before they spoke. That’s not typical. (I’m imagining your surprise…)

  2. […] reason I came to think this is really just a holdover from elementary and middle school. (Like I’ve said, I was a particularly legalistic child.) In those years there were times I would get picked on or […]

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