Spawn started talking when he was nine months old, and, as far as I can recall, talked non-stop whenever conscious, until he went into kindergarten. Being Spawn, he didn’t spend much time on single words. He was into five word sentences before he could walk without help, and onto complex, compound sentences by the time he could reliably eat solid food. It was a little disconcerting for everyone.
I could tell when he got up in the morning because I could hear a piping voice coming down the stairs towards me. I never needed a baby monitor with him because I could hear him talking in his bedroom above the living room. I’m pretty sure he was telling his favorite teddy bear stories, and then he’d fall asleep in the middle of them. I’ll bet a nickel he started up in the morning where he had left off the night before.
Trips to the pediatrician were challenges to my medical vocabulary.
“What’s dat?” he’d ask and point with his stubby little finger at something.
“A sphygmomanometer” I’d say, “it measures your blood pressure.”
“Oooh, dat’s a good word,” he’d reply, “say it again, Momma.”
“Spigomnetter. Pigsometter. Spiggometer.” He’d say.
“Pretty close,” I’d answer.
Then the pediatrician would come in, and the first thing Spawn would say, sitting there in his diaper, was, “Are you gonna use de spigomanometer fing on me?” This stopped the doctor in his tracks. He’d look at Spawn, then look at me; I’d shrug and grin wryly, and then he’d look back at Spawn.
“Do you know what that is,” he’d ask Spawn.
“Sure. It’s dat fing over dere. It measures my blood pressure. I have blood pressure, don’t I, Momma?” Spawn would say.
“Er, yes, of course you do,” I’d say.
So, the doctor would use the sphygmomanometer on Spawn, tell him what his blood pressure was, check his height and weight, and if the two of us could talk him into it, he’d get his immunization or whatever was necessary on that visit. There was always something new on each visit. Sometimes Spawn would carefully study a chart of the human eyeball, disassemble and reassemble a plastic brain model that was sitting on the desk, ask me to read the posters to him, or start examining the medical equipment with great attention. The nurses didn’t have much patience with him, I think they were too rushed, but I do give his pediatrician credit for satisfying his curiosity whenever possible.
I had Bunny when Spawn was just barely two years old, and I was on motherhood overload. She was a frequent and enthusiastic nurser, and Spawn didn’t cotton to sharing me enough to let me read to him while I nursed Bunny. He wanted to be read to first, and I should just let that loud baby cry until he was done with me. It didn’t work out that way. Things were getting a little unfriendly, and then I remembered who had read to me and, really, taught me to read, when I was a child – Disney recorded books.
I got Spawn a full set of Disney kid books on tape. He listened to them over and over. He memorized “Bambi” completely, front to back. He moved on to other books and memorized them, too. Disney taught him to read, just as it had me, only much earlier for Spawn. By the time he was three, he could read most children’s books, which I found out by accident one day.
I had picked up a copy of a “little critter” book; these were, and perhaps still are, very popular children’s books in the late 80’s. I gave it to Spawn, then the cry of the hungry occurred, so I didn’t get a chance to read any of it to him. By the time I was done nursing Bunny, Spawn returned, handed me the book, and said, “I like the part about the spider.” I smiled at him, he scampered off to eat cheese cubes, and I put Bunny down to sleep.
While Spawn and I were sitting at the table, I paged through the book, and we were conversing about nothing in particular. I didn’t see a picture of a spider. I looked again. There was no picture of a spider, but at one point Little Critter mentioned having a spider as a pet. I checked again for a picture. I looked at Spawn, happily eating cheese, and said, “Can you show me the part about the spider?”
Spawn took the book, turned to the page with the corresponding text and pointed, “there it is, Momma.”
“Can you read that to me, please,” I asked, “my eyes are a little tired from not enough sleep.”
“Sure,” he said, and read me the page. Without a single mistake. Without stumbling over any words. I told him that sure did sound fun, and took a deep breath.
“You can read now, can’t you?” I said.
“Yep. I can read all the children’s books,” he said, “I like reading.”
“I like reading, too. I have some other books you might like, would you like to pick some out?” I asked.
“Sure! That would be great!” he replied.
So, Spawn began reading science fiction, Grimm’s unabridged fairy tales, magazines, and humor books at age three. I took the two kids with me to the book store one day, and set Spawn loose. He left the children’s section, wandered politely through the rest of the store and came back with a copy of a book on human anatomy.
“I’d like this one,” he said, and handed it to me.
I paged through it, and there was nothing noticeably naughty or objectionable in it, it was a layman’s guide to medical terminology about human anatomy, and pretty detailed.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, I’m sure,” he said.
We got the book. I mentioned it to my husband over dinner that night, and he took a look at it, shook his head wonderingly and agreed that it seemed OK.
The next morning, Spawn was still asleep long after he usually awoke, so I went to check on him. Sure enough, he had stayed up late and then fallen asleep reading his anatomy book. His head was stuck to the page with the cutaway of a female breast, with details on mammary ducts. I dreaded any discussions we might have that day as I nursed Bunny, but the book seemed to have demystified the process for him, and he never asked or objected again.
The next trip to the pediatrician was a real pip, though. I don’t think Dr. H. will ever stop looking a little dazed, and it’s been better than 15 years now. At least it cut down on my needing to have a lot of long, detailed conversations about reproductive organs with Spawn.
The other kids have enjoyed the book, too. I’m just glad I didn’t get him a Merck manual, or I’d have spent the last 15 years trying to convince him he didn’t have Beri-beri!