Missing the point



When my niece was two years old, there were some defining moments where her brain graduated from infant to toddler. Suddenly she was able to observe the world and make deductive reasoning. On one of those days, she was going around the house observing each of us, then there was a spark!

She ran to my room with all her strength, pushed the door out of her way, and knocked the laptop out of my lap. I didn't get the chance to protest, the look in her eyes told me this was an emergency. She held me by the arms and yelled "Tonton!" I am tonton.

— Tonton! shajo baba mamy yaki deeda [long redacted list] daddy ihi white!

Now, I could have done two things. One I could have taken the time to understand what she was trying to say. Some of those words above were her way of calling each of us. Shajo is Sadio, Mamy is her mom, deeda is Kadija etc. Clearly, all these people had something to do with "white". She had a poor vocabulary at age two, but that's not uncommon. It's unrealistic to expect a 2 year old to speak with perfect clarity. So I could have asked follow-up questions to clarify.

Instead, I went with option two. That is, laugh at her incoherent rambling. It was cute and funny. I laughed on her face. I couldn't stop. And I kept repeating "something something white!" and laughed some more. She wasn't laughing.

When I wasn't stopping, she gripped my arms with the strength of a grown up and said: "Quiet!" I fell silent. There was a short pause before she pointed her finger at the corner wall of the room. And in the tone of a well read authoritative figure she added: "Tonton time-out."

I was ashamed. I missed the point. She was making an observation, possibly for the first time, and she wanted to share it with her Tonton. I made fun of her instead. It's like someone discovering a new moon on Uranus, and we laugh because she said your anus.

I will never know what she was trying to say. She is a big girl now and don't even remember that event. I missed the point. How many times have I laughed instead of listening? My own kids are about to turn two now. Before I laugh, I need to listen.