If there was a toddler equivalent to an “eye-roll” 2-year-old James would be the master of this mannerism.
Because James was basically non-verbal until well after his second birthday, he devised other ways to communicate with the world. His favorite game, one which he invented, required the undivided attention of a second participant. James would hold up an object, or point to an object and then wait for eye contact with the second party to be certain they understood he was asking a question.
For instance James would pick up a red ball and then hold it up for me to observe. I would then have to use descriptive words to talk about the ball until James got the answer for which he was searching. Ordinarily the guessing game took just moments per object and would play out like this:
“James, that is a red ball you are holding. The ball is plastic and its shape is spherical. It is a sphere. That is a ball from your ball pit and it is not heavy. It is light and fits nicely in the palm of your hand.”
James would then grab another ball from the ball pit and hold it up for me.
“James, that is a yellow ball you are holding. The ball is plastic and its shape is spherical. It is a sphere. That is a ball from your ball pit and it is not heavy. It is light and fits nicely in the palm of your hand.”
Most of the time when I hit on the description James was looking for, he would simply walk away, seemingly satisfied. We played this game numerous times a day and James would always initiate the interaction.
One day we were at “Mommy and Me” and during free play I was engrossed in conversation with another mom, so I was a bit distracted. James walked over with something in his hand and held it up for me.
“James, I can’t see what’s in your hand, Honey. Can you show me?”
James responded by opening his fist and balancing a pastel piece of chalk on his palm.
“Oh, that’s chalk, Sweetie.”
James stood there holding the chalk and waited for more descriptors.
“Pink chalk, James. The color is pink.”
Still he stood there.
“The chalk is a cylinder James. The shape is cylindrical. The chalk is used to write or draw on the chalkboard. A teacher uses chalk to write lessons on the board for her students.”
Still he stood there.
“Chalk can be used on paper to draw. Artists sometimes use chalk to make beautiful pictures. You can use it on the sidewalk to draw hopscotch boards and make art on the driveway.”
Still he stood there.
“James, Sweetie, I am out of words and ways to describe that chalk to you.”
James looked at the chalk. He switched it from hand to hand and held it up for me to take another look.
“James, that chalk is pink and it appears to be broken. The cylinder is imperfect because the edge is broken at an angle.”
James sighed. He held the chalk up higher, as if to give me a better view of what I was so obviously missing.
Trying to hide my frustration I kneeled down to him and took the chalk from his hand gently. I then stood up and walked over to the chalkboard. James followed. I showed James how the chalk could be used. I then handed it back to him and walked away so I could resume my conversation with my friend.
A few moments later James was back. He held up the piece of chalk again.
This time my frustration was clearly evident.
“I am so sorry, Buddy. I honestly don’t know what word you are looking for because I am out of ideas.”
James held up his right hand and I said, “You are holding pink chalk in your hand.”
At that moment James held up his left hand. He was holding a second piece of chalk.
“James, that is also pink chalk.”
James looked at both pieces of chalk carefully then held up both hands with a piece of chalk balanced in each palm. That is when I realized my mistake.
“Oh, yes, Honey. This is pink chalk,” I said as I pointed to the chalk in James’ left hand. “And this is lavender chalk,” I said as I pointed to the chalk in his right hand. “You’re right James. The first one was lavender or purple and this one is pink. My mistake.”
And with that, James gave me a satisfied nod, then turned and walked away.
I looked at my friend Michelle and said, “I think James just called me dense.”
Michelle laughed and said, “I think you’re right.”
This was the first, but certainly not that last time James would give me his toddler version of rolling his eyes at my ineptness.
Journal entry: The non-verbal two-year-old called me “stupid” today. Thank you James for the lesson in humility.