REVISED: January 2017
A huge truck with the letters D-A-T displayed boldly on its side rumbled to a stop in front of our house one day — looking for direction to deliver who-knows-what to who-knows-whom on our disjointed road.
And I could not help but think that if our little granddaughter had been there with us on our front deck that day, we might have passed her off as a precocious one-year-old reader, as she would no doubt have pointed with great enthusiasm to that truck, shouting “dat!”
She is now 3 1/2 years old.
But this word, which we think meant “that”, was one of her first words after “Mamma” (and maybe “statue” of all things), and was used to point out anything of interest to her. The popularity of the word was rivaled only by “oonch!”, which she used for anything she wanted us to get FOR her or take her TO. And don’t ask us the etymology of that one!
It’s surprising what these little ones understand before being able to put it into words — at least what we might call English. It’s popular nowadays to teach a few words of sign language to babies, which they can amazingly pick up from early on. So little Petra could sign “eat” and “enough” and such things before her first words. And from that she developed her own sign language of beckoning little hands and wriggling fingers amidst the “oonches” and “dats”, to make her point — which was often “please take me outside to my pool”. And soon she was quite proud of herself to have added the distinctive “up” and “down” to her vocabulary, accompanied by large arm movements in each direction, after which she would run to her parents with great glee over this accomplishment.
But my biggest surprise was to hear from the lips of this one-year-old child the words “God” and “Jesus” — well, actually “Ga!” and “Za-jeesh”, while pointing to an old picture in a little plastic case from my childhood, and then recognizing him in other pictures without our prompting.
Just how does God, as we understand Him, work in these little ones? Where, when, and how can we speak to our children of that which is spiritual? Perhaps it’s really so simple that we are tempted to make it hard. Perhaps we just need to let the words speak for themselves, and “preach” more through our own sign language and actions.
And it’s never too early.