“את לא מלמדת אותו שחתול עושה מיאו?!”
Translation: You don’t teach him that cats say meow?!
That’s the doctor at Tipat Chalav, the well-baby clinic where they administer vaccines and track our children’s developmental progress. She’s not worried that my son doesn’t speak much at eighteen months, since bilingual kids are supposed to start speaking later (I read somewhere this is a myth, but I’ll take it), but she’s astounded that he doesn’t know animal sounds.
First of all, I want to answer, It’s hatula, not hatul. You’re in Jerusalem, speak Yerushalmit.
But instead, I sit there, chastised. I mean, I know I have room to improve as a parent. I could make more varied and vegetable-rich meals; I could refuse to prepare a starch side dish and rely on the adage that if they’re hungry, they’ll eat (yeah, I’ve never heard of a non-poverty-stricken child who ever chose eating food they didn’t like over skipping a meal); I could make sure that my eldest’s homework is completed by the actual day it’s due; I could change the bedsheets even when they don’t have pee or vomit on them; I could insist on English-only in the house so that my kids would have a larger English vocabulary and a better American accent; I could hurt someone like me, out of spite or jealousy, just making sure you’re paying attention; I could read all the Hebrew eighteen-page-front-and-back weekly letters to the parents that the preschools send home; I could end this paragraph right now before you lose all respect for me as a human being.
But I never really thought that teaching your toddler what sounds different animals make was what would make or break me as a parent.
“Don’t you read him books–” yes, on the occasion that he’ll sit for one “–that have dogs in them, and when you’re reading it, you say that the dog goes hav-hav [as Israeli dogs say]?”
Well, we do have that one book with the puppies, but it’s been missing for a few months, and I just found it on Shabbat, but it makes noise if you press a button, so I didn’t… and I just…
… have no excuse. This doctor is looking at me like she can’t believe she lives in a world where a mother would be so neglectful as to not teach her child animal sounds, and I just have no good excuse. It never came up in conversation, I guess?
But that’s not fair, I want to answer; You happened to light upon his weaknesses, but you haven’t asked about things that he can do. The nurse asked if he can walk up stairs with assistance and I said yes, but nobody asked if he can walk up–and down!–stairs without assistance. Nor did anyone ask if he can climb onto the dining room table and then get down all by himself. Or if he can open the bathroom door (which unfortunately does not have a working lock). And nobody asked if, when we go to pick up his sister from gan, he can pick out her backpack from amongst the other kids’ bags, and if he takes it off the hook with just a little bit of help, and if he runs towards her with a huge smile and drops the backpack at her feet. How come no one asked me if he does any of those things?
And keep in mind, we all have a finite amount of time/energy/potential. It’s hard to concentrate on learning how to walk down stairs on your own at the same time as you’re learning kukuriku [that’s a rooster]. Any moment that I’m teaching him, “A cow goes ‘moo,'” is a moment that I’m not teaching him, “Please don’t pull your sister’s hair,” or, for example, the laws of thermodynamics. It’s a balance. Kind of like The Force. Or like the laws of thermodynamics. (Not really like The Force, though.)
It’s not that I’m fundamentally opposed to teaching kids about animal sounds. I’m not one to say, “When will we need this in the real world” (I mean, ask me when you’re going to need math in the real world, ask me why the only class in logic that they teach high-schoolers is important, go on, I dare you). I’m generally a pro-knowledge kind of person. And I guess knowing what kind of sounds cats make is a good basis if he ever wants to pretend he’s a cat, for, you know, purposes of play, as kids do. (Or if he wants to be in CATS. Do the cats in CATS meow? I have actually zero idea what CATS is about.)
She changes the topic, asks me if he can build a stack of 2-3 blocks (Maybe? Do Mega Bloks or stacking cups count? Couldn’t you have given me these questions in advance?), then does a physical examination. At the end of the appointment, she reminds me that I should work on animal sounds with him.
Fine. Okay, fine. But I’m just saying, don’t complain to me when he’s not doing linear algebra by the time he’s four because I was too busy teaching him animal sounds. I’m just saying.