Children seem to have a natural affinity for animals. Nothing excites my daughter more than a bouncy puppy–or a burly lab, for that matter. So far, in her 18 months of life, she has not evinced any fear of dogs, aside from a developing aversion to being licked in the face. (Lately she has shown a greater interest in the hindquarters than in the anterior portions of canines.) Her first word was “Woof!” Followed closely by “Grr!” “Quack!” “Baa!” “Neigh!” “Eee-ee-oo-oo!” (monkey) and “Tch-tch-tch!” (squirrel). She had an impressive repertoire of animal sounds long before she said “Mama” or “Daddy” with any consistency … we’re still waiting for our turn, in fact. We taught and rehearsed these performances in the beginning, but she now generates her own animal sounds based on real-life observations (along with the sound of a drill, sirens, the dryer, and sausage squealing in the microwave…I guess this could be construed as an animal sound in a morbid sort of way). (Keep reading, for an invitation to send in a story and get a free book.)
Why do we teach our children these sounds? What is the value of being able to differentiate between the a bear’s and a lion’s roar (my daughter can do this–at least in her dialect). This might be useful if you’re in a circus, but in small-town suburbia it seems like a superfluous skill. It has come in useful when I needed to distract a squirming toddler during a diaper change. And there’s a certain entertainment value in hearing her start roaring half a block away when we approach the stone lions down the street. But as far as essential life skills go, it’s low on the list.
Even the more common animals that my daughter can imitate are rare sights for most of us, at least at close range. As far as B could tell, the thing that goes “Moo” (or rather “Bvvvv!” according to her) most closely resembles a flat, roundish pillow with a pocket in its stomach and horns at one end that we put under her head when we change her diaper. It was a long time before she could correctly identify pictures of the animal. She’s still not certain that real-life bovines are not in reality goats.
That, however, can be explained by a recent memorable encounter. We were walking down the street close to home a few days before July 4th, when I heard bleating from across the street. Upon closer inspection, we discovered a little black goat tied up to a post in someone’s yard. I have long wanted a milking goat, so I knocked on the front door to see what the owner could tell me about city ordinances on goats. No answer. After watching and discussing the goat a little longer, B and I resumed our walk, only to be passed by the goat, tether in tow, just seconds later. I nabbed the rope and led the goat back to to his hitching post without much difficulty. While I was tying him up again, someone looked out of an upstairs window and said, “Oh, did he run away? Thanks!”
It turned out to be a stray goat. It had shown up in the yard that morning, accompanied by a German shepherd. I left our number, in case the owners failed to materialize, and went our way. B, however, talked about the “goak” for the rest of the morning. Anytime it was mentioned, she would run to the door to go out. In the afternoon we returned to see if the goat was still there, but it was not (nor was the homeowner). That was far from the end of the matter for B, though. Intermittently throughout the rest of the afternoon–and ceaselessly through dinner–she emitted urgent cries of “Goak!” punctuated with an occasional wistful “gone.”
For more than two weeks now we have been hearing about the goat … gone. I told B the goat was sad because it was lost; now it has gone home and it’s happy. So from time to time we get B’s version of the story: “Goak! … gone.” [fake crying]. “Baa-aa-aa!” (Goats, it seems, sound very much like sheep in B’s world.) “Home.” A few nights ago I heard her in her sleep, pacifier propped between her lips: “gone … gone…”
What family stories do you have about children and animal sounds? Write your story in a comment, and the reader with the best story by the end of August 2008 will get a free copy of Do Like a Duck Does, by Judy Hindley (topping my current list of favorite children’s books: Click here for our review). So leave your stories, invite your friends to contribute theirs, and then check back in for a good chuckle or two.