Wednesday, July 03, 2013


I can explain...

(1) Devyn and Molly asked me to take them to the McMaster Museum of Art.

(2) I insisted that we go to the bookstore first (because it's a bookstore).

(3) At some point between (1) and (2), on the matter of going to the museum, I casually said , "Okay, girls. Take notes because there will be an exam at the end." What I meant was, "I hope that you will pay attention, girls."

(4) At the bookstore, they asked for notebooks and pencils; this request is common enough for us that I didn't even think twice about it.

(5) At the museum, they both started taking notes.

(6) Anyone looking at the three of us could well assume that I had dragged my girls to a museum of art, and that I was forcing them to behave as obedient, little scholars.

(7) For 6- and 10-year-old children, they truly were well behaved, engaged, and enthusiastic -- and they took notes (albeit due to the confusion created by my use of figurative language).

It was a great excursion, but we couldn't spend the whole day at the museum: Devyn wanted a snack; Molly began trying to climb on furniture. Understandably, they were ready to enjoy one of my favourite features of the McMaster campus: its vast, green spaces populated with beautiful, old trees. That's what we did. 

We had been on the campus for other reasons last month, and they both wanted to sit under trees: Devyn to read and Molly to do math. They spoke of wanting to attend McMaster University in the future. But this visit? It was noisy. They screamed, shrieked, and darted between trees; Molly repeatedly threw her small bears up into those stately trees. 

This lengthy, outdoors portion of the day ended on a wth-are-you-kidding-me kind of note when I had to search for a pair of beige, two-inch Critter bears all around the vast, green-and-treed space that was -- by the way -- dotted everywhere with beige leaves. Yes, I decided that it was time to go when Devyn took her iPod out of her purse, and I had finally found the bears in one (damn) final survey of the area -- clearly, I was losing containment.

A short while later, as we snacked in the hospital common area, they were shocked (as was I) and overjoyed when a candy-bearing employee approached to compliment them on their behaviour. She even offered them more candy after overhearing them ask me if they could eat the candy yet. She might have had some hearing loss, I reasoned, as the girls had just been arguing over some intolerable similarities recently discovered in their respective birthday parties that we are planning; anyone around would have heard.

So, see? They're still kids.

Periodically, I wince with regret at both my use of figurative language in that instance and at the thought that their literal interpretation could have induced stress (though they did undertake the activity with enthusiasm). 

I am always impressed by the power of language. I can still recall the flash of an image while reading aloud from the Merchant of Venice in grade 9, when Antonio says, "Mark you this, Bassanio": a man making a mark on a stone with another stone. I knew at the time that the character was saying something akin to "beware" or "watch out" or "heed", but the impression of the act of making a mark on something was immediate. (According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the two senses of the phrase "take note" -- as in to observe/as in to set in writing -- date to around the 12th and 14th centuries, respectively.)

In the end, Devyn and Molly -- so young -- could not have had the life experience to understand the expression. Of course, they do now.

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