Sunday, November 11, 2007

Maggie #2 -- Speaking Up

Maggie's early verbal prowess proved to be NOT a fluke, or a proud parent's exaggeration.. She continued acquiring vocabulary at phenomenal rate; as a third child, she doesn't have a baby book,( :-( ) but there are memories that stand out. When she was about 16 months old, several of us neighborhood moms, with assorted children, were standing around the above-ground swimming pool that one family was installing. Maggie, growing bored with the view available at ground level, toddled over to me and said "Pick me up!" One of the other moms, whose daughter was just Maggie's age, was flabbergasted. But I remember that as typical.

By the time George was born (Maggie was 18 months), she was indulging in preschool level conversations. One of her favorite words was "mockingbird", from the song Hush, Little Baby. And she was perfectly capable of trying to persuade you that she didn't need to do whatever it was that she'd been told to do. I'm not a particular fan of baby sign, but it was certainly true that Maggie mostly avoided the "terrible twos" simply because she could communicate well.

Because of her verbal precocity, Maggie always got along well with adults and older children. How could anyone resist a four-year-old who asks for help with a task "because I don't think I'm competent to do this"? Unfortunately, some of of her siblings and close friends thought she talked almost too much. Somewhere along the line she acquired the nickname "Mouthy Maggie,"* which usually made her cry.

Early reading and writing went along with her early talking. She had a library card, proudly inscribed with her own name, a month before she turned four. And I don't think anybody ever actually taught her to read; certainly she was reading before kindergarten. As with spoken language, she just soaked it up like a sponge.

This did lead to some interesting struggles. Since she was reading far above her age level, she would regularly come across words she had never heard spoken. And her innate sense of phonics meant that she would sometimes use a word she'd learned by reading which wasn't pronounced quite the way she'd figured it out. The most memorable of these (and sorry, Maggie, I made too big a deal out of it at the time) was JAY-nine. She'd been reading Babysitters Club books, and one of the main characters has an older sister named Janine, which is usually pronounced Ja-NEEN. Maggie had never heard the name, and using impeccable logic, decided it must be pronounced like canine.

We laughed way too hard at her. Because despite her exceptional verbal skills (and overall intelligence), Maggie also had an intense inner drive to do "it" -- life -- perfectly. Some of this is inborn personality, but some of it was fostered by me. I grew up in a home where nothing I did was ever quite "good enough" -- (You graduated cum laude? I was expecting a magna at least.) I was aware of this problem, and even understood some of the forces that shaped my parents to be that way. I meant to not pass it on to my children, and truly tried, but the tendency was bigger than I understood, and sensitive Maggie was the most vulnerable to it. Sorry, sweetheart!

*This is a rendition of the actual nickname based on her real name, which I don't use in this blog. The actual nickname doesn't have quite the disrespectful connotation that "Mouthy" does.


Lindsay said...

Wow! That is impressive and very, very amazing. Talk about bragging rights! ;)

ellen said...

While I wasn't quite as precocious with my language skills at a young age as Maggie, those last two paragrahps could've been written about me. I, too, read voraciously and was teased endlessly for my mispronounciations growing up. The name I massacred, though, was "Phoebe". It definitely perplexed me, and I ended up settling on pronouncing it like it rhymed with "Robe". :)

I'm really enjoying reading about your family!