X is for Xiphias

We have a dog addict in the house.

One of SBJ’s first words was do’, (sounds like dog but without the g) usually repeated with gusto and accompanied by excited pointing.

DSC02361His favourite moment of our recent holiday in the South Island was meeting this big, fluffy, boisterous white dog at the Kingston Flyer railway station cafe. He wasn’t quite sure about patting such a livewire, but he was magnetised and followed her around until she left. Actually until long after she’d left. After she and her human friends were well out of sight he was still running after them for about a hundred metres: oh, the humanity!

I retrieved him and got him to wave bye-bye to the (no longer visible) dog. This is our standard tactic for getting him to leave anything alone. Bye-bye fish. Bye-bye fire alarm.

He then spent the next hour grieving the dog, waving to it and saying ‘do-do,’ even from his car-seat while we were on the next leg of the trip. Pitiful! This is now a regular occurrence, whenever we meet a dog on the street and then have to say goodbye to it. He’ll be sitting in his pushchair, waving at long-gone canine friends, for the remainder of whatever trip we’re on.


SBJ chasing after the dog and losing

His father had a brilliant idea a while ago. Let’s show SBJ some dogs on YouTube! It was a hit with the target audience. His favourite thing in the whole world became watching the antics of a brown and white dog: getting his head stuck in a slinky; stealing water bottles; trying to muster the courage to attack a mechanical mouse. For the next month, our one-year-old couldn’t pass the door to the study or see any other person’s computer without pointing and saying with great determination: do-do! When we were visiting our hotel staff friends downstairs, it was very difficult to convince him that the till computer wasn’t going to start showing him dogs.

After a few days of this, do-do replaced Daddy whenever he saw my husband (I refused to have anything to do with feeding the addiction, so I still got the lovin’). Daddy’s homecoming was a great source of joy because it might mean he could watch dogs! Not the way to a father’s heart, it must be said.

My real point (and the xiphias) is still coming, but first comes my favourite part of this story:

SBJ: Cat. Cat. Cat! Cat!
Husband: I’ve solved the YouTube dog problem!
Me: Is this something of a spider-and-fly solution?
Husband: That would be a pessimistic way of looking at it.
SBJ, pointing at computer: Cat! Cat! Cat! Cat!
Me: What would be an optimistic way of looking at it?
Husband: He’s CURED!

My contribution to this situation has been to think of other ways to satisfy his obsession with animals. I bought some children’s nature books from my favourite second-hand bookshop, so we have some books with lots of pictures of lots of animals for him to look at, and I don’t mind too much if they get, you know, well-loved.

Also, stroke of genius! I got a whole bunch of educational posters like they have in kindergartens, with words and pictures (eleven bucks each from Warehouse Stationery: money well spent), and put them up at SBJ-height around the house. They’ve been a huge success. A couple are kept under the coffee table, and he pulls them out when he wants to tell us about some geese or horses. It’s all very cute.

Anyway. What got me thinking about that tonight was how weird some of the choices on these posters are. On the My First Words one, there’s a useful selection of fruit and animals (SBJ’s two favourite categories in the world), and also a toothbrush, some shoes and a spoon. All everyday items.

But there’s also a toy telephone that is the shape of a 1960s phone, though it’s clearly a toy and has push-buttons rather than a round dial. My son confuses the remote control to the stereo with the phone, because they’re the same sort of shape. He’s never clapped eyes on one with an attached handle. How odd that we’re still making toys to represent what phones looked like before we were born!

There’s also a watch (do you know anyone in, say, their twenties who wears a watch? Not if they own a phone, right?) and a toy house which is reasonable, but funny for us since we live in an apartment and SBJ thinks the entire block is our house. The umbrella is also fair enough, but also outside his experience. It rains plenty in Wellington, but it’s usually accompanied by gale-force winds, so umbrellas are never the answer here.

I’d be interested to hear what would count as ‘everyday items’ in your kids’ lives. What are they obsessed with? We need pictures of stairs, pegs, dishwasher buttons and cellphones, for a start!

It gets weirder on the animal alphabet poster. Alligator, bear, camel, deer, elephant, frog, goose, horse. Sure. Then they mix it up a bit. There’s a jellyfish, a nautilus and yes, x is for xiphias. It appears to be some sort of fish. That’s some creative alphabetting.

I’m all for expanding kids’ experience and vocabulary, so I’m down with that. It took me a moment to realise that one of these animals was not like the others. What’s that under u? A horse with a pointy horn? Ah, that well-known zoological phenomenon, the unicorn! What?! They can come up with xiphias but have to resort to magic and mythology for an animal starting with u? Heavens above. Perhaps we should have just stuck to YouTube.

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0 comments on “X is for Xiphias”

  1. tazeinmirzasaad Reply

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  2. Alex Reply

    To be fair, X and U are tricky… We’ve had Xenops (a small bird, apparently), Uacari, Umbrella Bird and X-ray fish (which felt a bit of a cop out as the F on that puzzle was a Fish!) We’ve had some strange ones for other letters though, which are a little less explicable – in the same book as Xenops you get P is for Parrotfish, S is for Stinkbug and T is for Tamarind. Not to mention Z being for Zorillas. I suppose it would be tedious if it were always Snakes, Tigers and Zebras, but still…
    On the telephone point, what amazes me is how children seem to know instinctively what these machines are and how they are used, even if – as you say – the chances of them encountering an old-style rotary phone in their daily life are small.
    My husband wears a watch. I would too, if I were still at work. I realise we’re slightly older than your suggested age group, but I’m not sure they’re quite obsolete yet… and Marcus loves his toy watches. A more immediate means of talking about time than pointing at distant clocks, perhaps.

    • Caroline Reply

      Yes – I was going to say the same thing about the telephone. I have no idea how they pick up what it is and how it’s used, but they do seem to know somehow that they are dealing with a telephone.

      • not a wild hera Reply

        Yes, you’re both quite right about the animals and the technology 🙂

        Agreed the animals are tricky, but I still draw the line at fiction! I am inspired to look up the uacari et al, Alex 🙂

        Someone said to me recently that his son told him, disparagingly, that a watch was a one-function device. Matt wears one, too, and I think kids are probably still keen on acquiring such a grown-up accessory, so they’ll have some life in them yet, I’m sure. But I know more people from teens to thirties who look at their phones for the time than who look at their wrists, so I won’t be buying shares in Swatch, myself.

        Obviously I was critiquing the poster with tongue in cheek, but I guess the serious point in my mind is that, as with our critiques of schooling, we tend to revert to our own childhood experiences very easily rather than thinking of how today’s kids will experience the world. I find it pretty trippy when I stop to think of all the things that have always existed in SBJ’s experience, and all the things that have only existed in museums.

        Very American, but also very interesting, is the Beloit mindset list, an annual list to help university staff understand new students: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2016/

  3. Caroline Reply

    I’m feeling behind the times now – does no-one wear watches any more? I had no idea – I will be scrutinising the wrists of the “yoof” in more detail from now on!

    Things that would have to go on my toddler’s list of essential items:
    the bin
    washing machine buttons
    baby wipes (especially when strewn all over the floor)
    trousers (preferably a guide detailing how to take them off)
    sheep (seems to be more of a sheep than a dog person – not sure what that says about her)
    big sister
    pans (for taking out of the cupboard and bashing)
    mobile phones & remote controls

    One thing that always amazes me about little children is how they can recognise a dog as a dog when they come in such a large variety of shapes & sizes – yet they seem to get it right consistently from quite an early age. I’m sure there must have been a psychological study done about that sometime.

  4. Rach Reply

    Your (not quite) resident zoologist is definitely happy about the animal obsession! See if he can get the hold of Chelonia mydas (couldn’t itlaics it unfortunately), then I’ll truely be impressed! x

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