I first noticed this strange phenomenon shortly before the kids had their first birthday. I had lost the ability to use nouns. I had hoped that this grammatical absence would correct itself once I was able to resume sleeping for extended periods of time. So far, using nouns in verbal speech remains a skill lost like the hundreds of hours of sleep I will never recover. This concerned me slightly until I started speaking to other moms and quickly realized that not only was it normal, it seemed entirely possible that weary moms like myself were creating a new dialect of English.
Apparently most of the nouns I've learned since my first verbal exchanges have been wiped out to make room for more important functions. Breathing, possibly or more likely an autonomic parenting reflex so that preparing bottles and changing diapers and knowing who is crying and why requires little conscious thought. Nouns. Who needs 'em? All the nouns I might ever need to use are combined into one tidy little word that continues to serve me quite well.
Fortunately, I have retained most of the adjectives in my vocabulary and combined an assortment of arm movements and hand waving, I can almost make myself understood.
"Where's the thing?" (palms up, slowly spreads arms wide, keeping hands flat)
"You know, the thing that used to be in that cooking thing?" (points to large kitchen appliance)
"No, not that thing. The other thing." (husband opens cupboard and displays muffin tin? cookie sheet?)
"Yes, that thing."
While my family was visiting during the kids' first Christmas, Ty and Erin's faces were covered in everything they were eating. Their feeding chairs were inaccessible so I served as a feeding chair on the floor, a child on each leg.
"Erik, can you hand me that thing?"
"That thing on the thing... the thing on the thing.... that thing right there on.... the..... THING!!!"
The poor man. He knew I couldn't get whatever I needed and I couldn't explain what this mysterious 'thing' was. He stood posed like a linebacker ready to hold back an invading army over the kitchen counter. He knew something I needed was close to him. Slowly he moved his hands over the Christmas chaos of dinner dishes, clean baby bottles and teething rings and finally hovered over a damp facecloth.
We were used to this. It was normal communication between us. My family, however, nervously backed away from me and by the looks on their faces, it was clear they thought I had completely lost my mind.
They were probably right.
In my defense, tending to the relentless needs of two infants is a time intensive task. Evening sleep was interrupted by feedings and Tylenol for the constant onslaught of teeth. Rest was an elusive creature that was easy to catch, but difficult to contain. I was beyond exhausted. I wished I was exhausted because that seemed like a huge improvement over the zombie pseudo-coma that was my state of consciousness. I had no short term memory. If I misplaced something, the sites to search included the most ludicrous of places. I frequently found my house keys and freshly brewed pots of coffee in the freezer.
Five years and many consecutive hours of sleep later, my vocabulary is slowly starting to expand. I now have a repertoire of non-descriptive noun replacements to choose from. Stuff. Do-hickey. Whassit. Thing-a-majig. Watchamacallit. Doo-dad.
Last weekend I had planned to cook something both my husband and I enjoy and the kids would be willing to try. In an effort to eat out less and save time on planning meals, I often make big batches of some of our favourite recipes and freeze them in smaller sizes for a handy and easy-to-reheat meals. Hubby was planning a trip to the store and wanted to know if there was anything else that we needed to accomplish that day, to which I replied:
"Well, if we get the stuff for the watchamacallit, I can make that thing."
It made perfect sense to me. He looked up from his coffee, and stared at me, puzzled, as he processed my gibberish. I showed him the page I had ripped out of a magazine. On it was the recipe for "Cheesy Chicken Watchamacallit."
"Oh," he says, looking relieved, "That thing!"
Even though we don't often make sense to anybody else who might be listening, at least we understand each other. As a mother of twins, I commonly get asked if the kids have ESP or their own language. I've come to learn that this skill is not unique to them. It is the cornerstone of communication in our little family. It's not paranormal; it is simply taking the time to listen to what someone else is trying to say. Patience equals understanding.
Perhaps THAT is the most important thing.