Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker

The Disappearance of Lemolade

At four years and eight months, my son Guthrie is about 44 pounds and 44 inches of a limitless capacity for making us laugh.

Dinner time is a comedy/variety hour. It may include jokes, laps around the table, a puppet show from underneath the tablecloth, made up songs about bodily functions, putting new words to Darth Vader’s march, a trip to the bedroom to make a new puppet, a mid-dinner visit to the bathroom followed by his bare ass on parade as he cackles and refuses to hitch up his drawers, milk bubbles in his cup, role-playing as monster devouring a forest of broccoli or a population of green-pea villagers, attempts to get dessert without having to eat dinner, laments about being too tired to do anything you want him to do, rhyming games, making new knock-knock jokes, trying out new knock-knock jokes, telling classic knock-knock jokes with the intentionally wrong punchline, lying on the floor, sitting in one or both parents’ laps, fishing his hand around inside his mama’s drinking glass, whispering secrets and plots in a way that can be heard by everyone, switching seats, and, more often that should be the case, getting up from a full dinner plate, going to the fruit bowl on the counter, and getting himself a piece of fruit. When you ask him why he had to get the fruit, he looks at you with surprise and a bit of a disappointment at how dense you are. “Because I’m hungry.”

All of that is done with a verve and panache that suggest he’s part Lenny, Squiggy, Ace Ventura, Jerry Lewis, Three Stooges (or five), Abbott and Costello.

Or, really, it’s just that he’s a committed student of borschty, vaudevillian Muppet videos, which he’s watched for years. He’s a huge Muppet fan and also generally puppet-obsessed. I mean, this kid knows the names of the puppeteers from the original show. A lot of them. By sight and by name. Ask him who does Gonzo’s voice. He’ll know. Ask him which characters Steve Whitemire does, either when he was younger or now in the new film. Jerry Nelson? Dave Goelz? He’ll know. I suspect Jim Henson is the person who has come closest to making Guthrie understand what death is. Ah, you mean now someone else has to do Kermit’s voice?

For a long time Guthrie said Muppet puppeteer Steve Whitmire’s name as Steve Whitmore or Whitmark but Sarah, his mama, tells me Guthrie’s come around. I think Steve is of particular interest to Guthrie because Steve looks so young in the early pictures. Guthrie thinks of himself as a contemporary.

Guthrie has other speech production errors that make us smile. Those little mistakes that he isn’t quite aware of — or is aware of but refuses to correct. They show he’s learning and changing. Even though he has long stretches where you can talk with him about any old thing like he’s a stranger in the seat next to you on an airplane, the habitual mispronunciations show that he’s still just a four-year-old boy.

Lemolade for lemonade, which once generated the classic correcting line by Guthrie to his friend Etta, a year younger: “It’s not lemodade, it’s lemolade.” Lemolade is a favorite of his parents. It sounds kind of like limullade. We try really hard not to correct him when he says it. We want it to last as long as possible. When it’s gone, he’ll still be awesome but it’ll be like missing the old Muppet Show at the same time we’ve been enjoying the new Muppet videos and movie.

Team Rex for T Rex. We have repeated the correct version a thousand times. He just doesn’t hear “Tee.”

Monica butterfly instead of monarch butterfly.

Callipitter instead of caterpillar.

Princel instead of pretzel.

Wiff instead of with and at instead of that are common in young children, but they are a part of the larger pattern.

His speech is becoming more adult-like. He listens better, he self-corrects more, we read more chapter books to him (with bigger vocabulary, more complex ideas, and more structured dialogue), and he watches a higher class of shows.

We’ll miss those old words when they go, the same way we sometimes miss the period right after he learned to talk when just about all he would say was, “Dis? Dat?” as he pointed at things. “This? That?”

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Grant Barrett