Saturday, August 8, 2009

Go stand in the toilet - or - the irony of losing your nouns while teaching a 5 year old how to read and write.

A few years back, I saw a great show by comedian Sandra Shamas. I think it was called At Wit’s End. In part of the show, she discussed hitting her 40’s and the phenomena of noun loss. Suddenly, this very articulate woman found herself literally at a loss of words and not just words in general, nouns in particular. She would find herself mid sentence about to name something and be completely at a loss for what that something was. “Can you pass me that...that...that...silver thing, with the curly metal end? You know that thing we use to open wine? ” Or she would just simply call something by a totally different name...totally randomly and with no conscious realization.

I laughed and laughed...and thought; that could NEVER happen to me. I am relatively smart, well-read and a writer for god’s sake – how could I ever possibly lose my nouns?’s happened! So often now I find myself asking for something or just simply telling a story or sharing an anecdote when suddenly the noun is simply not there. Gone. Lost. Stolen. I look at the object in complete bewilderment. I know what the thing does, what its purpose is. I’ve used it on many occasions but now, I am suddenly drawing a blank as to what it is called. I can’t tell you how often I have resorted to simply calling these noun-less objects “thingamajigs.”

And while I find it extraordinarily alarming, it does provide endless hours of amusement to my 5 year old. For example, the other day, I looked at him with all sincerity and asked him to “go upstairs when he finished dinner to brush his calendar.” And by dinner I meant breakfast and by calendar, I of course meant teeth. He just looked at me like I was from another planet.

Then last night I was going to give him a sponge bath (because he just got a new temporary airbrush tattoo and didn’t want it to get wet). So I asked him to “go stand in the toilet.” He didn’t know whether to laugh or question my sanity. And I had no idea why he was balking at my request until I slowly replayed the sentence in my head and realized how absurd it was. All I could do was laugh...which immediately gave him permission to laugh with me. (And of course I meant bathtub. I am not some lunatic who bathes her child in the toilet!)

Happening in everyday conversation is one thing, but it’s also happening when I am reading him books or trying to teach him the definition of new words. The nouns, they just randomly disappear. How am I supposed to teach my child to be literate, when I am slowly sinking into my own personal world of illiteracy?

For the most part it is absurd and does cause much laughter to him...and to my friends, who are also suffering the same fate...and to me as well. But as a writer, I worry that one day, I am going to stare at a blank computer screen and not be able to find a single noun, or adjective or adverb or...a...a...wait...wait a second...damn it. What is that word again...the one that usually describes an action?

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