Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New tricks for the new kid

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But if the dog is still very young, learning a trick could be even more of a chore.

We have in mind, of course, not a long-tongued, shaggy-coated canine but Sonny, who at 11 months should be starting to earn his keep, in our opinion. Babies, according to a manual we probably read somewhere, are supposed to learn at least one 'adorable trick' per month of life after the first six months (when they are probably too preoccupied with drinking milk and so forth). This rule is meant to repay parents who toil day in and day out to keep the child in clothes and provender, allowing them to show off a few 'surprises' to relatives and friends. "Oh, by the way," the parent is supposed to be able to carelessly mention, "Junior has learned how to say, 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'. His pronunciation needs work, though." Or: "Incidentally, Junior can walk eight steps now balancing a ball on his upper lip. Pity he can't make it a round ten steps, don't you think?"

Unfortunately, our little fella seems to have skipped the briefing in which the 'adorable trick' requirement was extensively explained. At the moment, the only thing he can offer in this department is a rather lame "Where's your nose" routine. It is triggered when an adult asks him, preferably in the exaggerated manner usually assumed when addressing an infant: "Sonny, where's your tongue?". This may need to be repeated, or supplemented with a "Sonny, show us your tongue". At a certain point, the little fella - until then either poker-faced or smiling vacuously - will suddenly stick out his tongue. He then cracks a grand smile and awaits fawning praise or breathless clapping on the part of the audience.

Now, you'll have to admit that this is not exactly proof that we have unearthed the next Einstein. And there are two further problems with the routine. First, Sonny apparently has mental storage space for only one trick. Occasionally, after much rote drilling by the infant care staff (who came up with the "Where's your tongue" skit to begin with), he is able to respond to the question, "Sonny, where's your head?" by patting himself on his crown. However, the massive brainpower required for this production means Sonny immediately forgets where his tongue is, and will simply giggle in a silly manner when asked where it can be found. Worse, especially if the audience is larger than usual (where "usual" is a matter of two or three persons), he can become flustered. He will then stick out his tongue when asked where his head is, or nose, or for that matter the location of his kidney or even Osama bin Laden.

Readers may wonder why Mum and Pa should not launch their own crash 'adorable trick' programme. Sadly, it's not as though we haven't tried. Originally, we had high hopes that Sonny would be able to master a goodly portion of the alphabet early on. The little fella even seemed to get a handle on 'A', 'B' and 'C' some months ago. But the 'brainpower for one trick' limitation has since kicked in. Not only has he not learned new letters, but he's clean forgotten 'B' and 'C'. As for 'A' - and, to give credit where it's due, he's forever babbling, 'A' - he seems to associate the sound with anything from food (Parent: "Milk, Sonny?" Sonny: "A. A.") to the meaning of life (Sonny (after seeming to gaze deeply into the future): "A. A.").

The way things are going, the only way we're going to get any 'adorable tricks' going around here is if we get a dog. Old one, young one... it can't be any more challenging than Sonny's been.