One of the most fascinating and frustrating aspects of parenthood is teaching your child a new concept. A concept she doesn't know. Or, better yet, a concept she thinks she knows, insists she knows, in fact... but doesn't know. I burn through an entire tank of willpower to resist arguing with her when she disagrees with an indisputable, scientific fact like what color something is.
Every few days, we get to take home some of Penelope's artwork from day care. It lays there waiting for us in her little mailbox. One particular evening, there was a drawing of the letter "I." So I thought this would be a good opportunity to brush up on our knowledge of said letter.
As we sat at dinner, I asked Penelope if she could tell me a word that starts with "I." "Yo-yo," she answered confidently. As I corrected her, I wondered how she could ever come to the conclusion that "yo-yo" starts with I. "Yo-yo starts with Y... Ice cream is a word that starts with I." Then I proceeded to make the sounds of the individual letters, to hammer home the distinction.
I asked her to try again. "Yogurt," she responded. Things are devolving rapidly here. Yogurt and ice cream are both dairy products but they definitely start with different letters.
You see, when you say them out loud, "I" and "Y" rhyme. I believe this to be the basis of my daughter's confusion. So I went into her playroom, and peeled the foam "Y" and "I" from her play mat to help visualize my point.
"That's one," she said immediately upon spotting the letter I in my hand. "Damnit!," I thought to myself. Technically, it does look like the number one, since this "I" didn't have the two stems at the top and bottom of it. Penelope wanted no part of this foam figure being the letter I. "No, daddy. That's one," she repeatedly insisted. "Lammie is one." And just like that, I'm wrestled into singing "Happy Birthday" to Lammie, even though Lammie is most definitely older than one. If you're counting, that's two indisputable facts she is arguing with me about right now.
We continue to list "I" words and "Y" words but every time I show her the I, she stood firm, swearing it was the number "1." I gave up on that whole lesson and moved on to Y, which she seemed to grasp fine. Maybe it's a vowel thing. We reeled off several Y words with little effort. Yak and yo-yo and yes and yellow and yummy. Small victory. However, the I/1 debate has surfaced several times since.
Another debate that surfaces in our half-Italian-American household revolves around - you guessed it - food! You see, pasta, as you might have gathered, is a staple. I make it at least once a week - usually on Sundays. But every time, Penelope would declare that it is called "noodles." But labeling any pasta as "noodles" is nothing short of sacrilege. Egg noodles are noodles. Chinese noodles are noodles. Your thick skull is a noodle. Pasta is pasta and each pasta has its own distinct name and taste and texture. Rigatoni, cavatelli, penne, farfalle, ravioli, spaghetti. The list goes on. If my WASP of a wife can identify these different shapes and sizes, then my daughter, half-blood that she is, ought to be able to as well. I'm not sure who taught Penelope that pasta and noodles are synonyms, but I do know it's no self-respecting paisano.
But just when you've given up hope that your daughter will forever refer to your delicious traditional Sunday meal as "noodles," the clouds begin to part. A ray of hope emerges as the defense suddenly tightens up, forces a turnover and momentum shifts in your favor...
Just this past Friday night, my wife had to work late so I decided to take Penelope out to dinner at a restaurant. Daddy-daughter date night. When I told her the night before of my plan, she asked me excitedly, "Can I get pasta?" Now, when did she decide to start calling it pasta? The last time we had that conversation, I had most definitely lost. Could it be she actually listened to me? I actually taught her something? I'm having an influence?
As I ordered our meal the next night I told the waitress, "She'll have the rigatoni with bolognese." But Penelope quickly interrupted me, "NO I WANT PASTA!" The waitress laughed. "You heard her," I said. "Bring the girl some pasta."
"With a meatball!" Penelope demanded. Now, I didn't even broach the subject that bolognese sauce already has meat in it. This being a respectable Italian eatery, the waitress wasn't sure how to proceed. "Really? A meatball too?" she asked, confused.
"Yes. Bring her a meatball too," I relented. That’ll be another lesson, for sometime further down the road.
Penelope is a smart, stubborn girl who gets it - understands it - when she wants to. On other matters, she's one tough noodle to crack.