Have you ever been curious about an adult’s odd pronunciation of a word? Especially if when they say it, they get that sad/happy look that tells you it’s connected to a cherished memory.
“Mommy, I want a munt knee.”
The expression on my two-year-old’s face was intense and sincere. A munt knee.
I’d had a similar experience with my older daughter, who’d looked up from play one day and said, “Mommy, I want a rubber ducky.”
How cute, I thought. She’s been watching Sesame Street. She spoke very plainly, and I knew exactly where to get her a cute, yellow, rubber ducky.
So next time we went to the TG&Y, I picked one up.
“No,” she said when I presented it. Her tone and expression added, Silly adults. They just don’t understand anything.
“But…but… It’s a rubber ducky.”
“Not that kind of rubber ducky. The other kind.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t know about any other kind of rubber ducky.”
Her expression said, Of course you don’t. Poor old thing.
“What does this ‘other kind’ of rubber ducky look like?”
“It looks like a real rubber ducky.”
I finally had to take her to the store. “Show me this rubber ducky you want.”
She led me directly to the sporting goods section. The decoy she selected still sits by our bathtub and has entertained both children, four grandchildren, and assorted nieces and nephews.
But you can see why I might be set back a bit by a request for a munt knee. If I couldn’t figure out a rubber ducky, how was I going to figure out a munt knee?
“Ummm. What does a munt knee look like?”
She stomped her foot and shook her head, sending all the strawberry blonde wisps of hair I had carefully combed down back to floating in the air.
“You not sayn it wight. It’th a munt knee.”
I knew I wasn’t going to win this argument. “OK. Next time we go shopping, can you show me this munt…uh….thing you want?”
“OK.” And she danced off.
Some time later, while shopping at Sears, I saw one of those stuffed chimpanzees with a banana in his hand, and it hit me. Munt knee. Monkey! She wouldn’t know the difference between a monkey and a chimpanzee. I snatched it up and took it to her.
Tears welled up in her little eyes. “No,” she said. “Not THAT. A munt knee.”
OK. So she did know the difference. “I’m sorry I got the wrong munt…uh…monkey.” I thought maybe now that I had discovered what she didn’t want, maybe she could give me some kind of clue about what she did want. “Please tell me again what kind of monkey you want.”
She screwed up her face so hard I could practically see the thoughts zooming through her head: How can I get this dense grownup to understand what I’m asking for?
Finally her face relaxed and she said, “I want a kyoo we us Joe wedge munt knee.”
Oh, great! I wracked my brain trying to remember if we’d seen a monkey named Joe Something-or-other anyplace. At the zoo? No. No Joe Monkeys there. But then, no cows lived at the zoo, either, and she’d insisted she’d seen cows last time we went. Never did decipher that one.
“OK,” I said, surrendering. “We’ll look again.”
So next time we went shopping, we looked again. Nothing. No Joe Monkeys anywhere. But we kept looking. And we finally found what she wanted. You’ve figured it out already, haven’t you?
We were walking by a bookstore when she grabbed my hand.
“Mommy! There him is!”
“There who is?” (Ok, I’m kind of slow sometimes.)
“Kyoo we us Joe wedge!”
She pulled me over to one of the displays, and there it was—the latest book about Curious George the Monkey, accompanied by an assortment of stuffed Curious Georges.
And that’s how Curious George became her bedtime companion at least until she married, and how our family came to pronounce “monkey” such an odd way.