My niece Bethany called me last Saturday while Cynthia and I were totally distracted by the aftermath of a glass jar jumped off a cabinet smashed into pieces. No one claim responsibility. But that was a great deal of debris to clear. I heard the call but was unable to take. Fortunately, I have invested in a digital answering machine. Bethany promptly left me a message in English, after the beep I suppose.
“Kaofu, I want to see you today. Call me.”
Note: Kaofu is how she addresses me in Cantonese. In Chinese culture, we don’t address each other by names. Instead, by titles that indicate seniority.
Wow, kids grow up fast these days. She even has this notion of: If you don’t come and see me, I shall go and see you. Impressed by my niece’s desire and determination to visit and since Cynthia took the car for her haircut appointment, I patiently waited at home, for Bethany and her entourage a.k.a. mom and dad to arrive.
The last time I met Bethany was half a month ago. We went to Sentosa celebrating her mother – my sister – ‘s birthday. Even till that very moment, my 2-year-old-ish niece hardly spoke a word to me or did we manage to have any meaningful conversation. All was about to change last Saturday, when her linguistic ability [towards me] was unlocked. Just like Stephen Hawking once described and made famous by Pink Floyd, she began to talk.
For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We began to talk.
I could only imagine the joy of a 2-year-old when all of a sudden, she is able to articulate her thoughts and communicate with the external world her wants and desires. All those years of crying, not knowing how to speak, vanished in thin air. In return, the floodgate of words pour out from within. She has learned to speak and listen. Perhaps, that’s why as adults, we shall continue to learn new skills and sharpen existing ones so as to be able to do something we have yearned for, but are unable not do or do that well. To articulate our musical thoughts, to cook a delicious meal, to play a beautiful sport, or to write something inspiring – all lead to moments of joy that can be invigorating and liberating at the same time.
I am not a fan of candies. That explains why a box of candies next to my amplifier is still full. In every visit, Bethany always attempts to open the box of candies, tightly sealed in a plastic container. I was so used to talking to her as though I was talking to myself. So subconsciously, last Saturday, I said to her, “Candies are bad for health.” And I added, “Chocolate is also bad for health.” Her parents smiled at my comment.
To that, Bethany replied with one word and she spoke slowly, “Moderation”.
I am sure all kids are super kids. And I don’t suppose Bethany is any different from others. This revelation has shocked me in a few ways.
- She appeared to listen to what I’ve said.
- She appeared to understand what I’ve said.
- She appeared to form an opinion and disagree with what I’ve said.
- She appeared to articulate the reason why candies and chocolate may not be all that bad.
I was shocked, and am impressed.
After that defining moment, I have come to the realization that this little one may be able to understand what I say. Not only that, she begins to articulate what she wants. We played some music – I was on the guitar and she on percussion. We played a game she called duck-duck-goose, which is more or less like a hide-and-seek on steroid. Bored of all the games we have played, she led me into my common bedroom. And she said, “Close the door”. My interpretation is that she likes things in order. Open doors are to be closed, crumpled floor mats are to be straightened. I promptly closed the door and observed her next move.
She went through my notepads and picked one that was blank. She then chose a pen and has started drawing. Frustrated by her lack of progress, she handed me the pen and said, “A dog”. I doodled a dog. Then she said, “A sheep”. We took turn to draw and it went on and on until both of us were tired.
Bethany then climbed to the guest bed, tugged herself nicely with a blanket. I sat next to her pretending to dose off. And I asked, “Bethany, tell me a story”.
“You tell me a story!” she giggled.
“No, you tell me a story!” I insisted.
She gave up and started a story, “Once upon a time …”
I looked at her closely and she giggled. Bethany continued, “Once upon a time, there was a little Kaofo“.
At that my moment, my eyes were moist and my heart was melted. She was telling a story about me! Indeed, once upon a time, I was as little as Bethany. What was on my mind back then? Who did I want to be when I grew up? What was my dream? My mind drifted until Bethany pulled me back to reality.
“Once upon a time, there was a little Kaofo … [giggle] … you tell me a story!” said she.
I smiled and said, “Once upon a time, there was a little Kaofo. He liked to play guitar … and he lives happily …”
To my surprised, Bethany completed my story with two words: Ever after.
My heart leaped in joy.
Before she left the common bedroom, she went through my oil painting collection. Staring at the first one on the stand, she asked, “What is that?” I replied, “These are wine bottles”. Onto the second one, same question. I replied, “This is Stitch, you favorite cartoon character”. Onto the third one, she paused and rubbed her hands all over the painting. Normally I would be quite mad. But I recalled Randy Pausch‘s last lecture: The importance of people versus things (people come first, always!) I laughed it off and gently told her that this might dirty her hands. She seemed to get the message and she asked, “What is that?” I stared at my third painting. I genuinely did not know how to explain. So I said, “I don’t know really. This is abstract art”.
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There is so much to learn from my 2-year-old-ish niece. I can now understand why kids can be so addictive and adorable. And I wonder when she will visit me next.