Shoenails and Mapnails

>> Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning language is a strange and complex thing.  As human beings (allegedly), we make associations between words and meanings, and we use those words to indicate those meanings.  Communication occurs when two people use the same associated meaning for the same word.  When two people use different meanings for the same word, a "mis" communication occurs.  (And, incidently, when those same two people are spouses, we refer to the miscommunication as "marriage".)

The fun and entertaining thing about having small children is the kinds of miscommunications that can occur, even when you all think you are talking about the same thing.  Take this story, for example.

For months now, we have been dealing with Bubba's "shredding" fingernails.  The poor little tyke has inherited mommy's soft fingernails, and they barely get past the edge of his fingers before they begin shaving off in strips that like to catch on everything.  When one of them starts to peel, he runs to me and says, "Mommy, can you help me with my fingernail?"  Dutifully, I peel off the offending shred, and Bubba goes on his way.

Incidentally, DH winces every time he sees my fingernails because they are so soft I can bend them and it doesn't hurt.  He says if he bent his nails like I do, there would be bruises under the nail bed and man-tears.  (Admittedly, I suspect him of exaggerating, but I don't know that for certain, and if he has accepted that belly button touching makes me faint, I can accept fingernail bending makes him bruise.  It's all good.)  When I was little, my mother used to tell me that my poor fingernail quality was due to my lack of milk consumption.  If I just drank more milk, which I hated because, as it turns out, I was allergic, I would have better fingernails.  Unfortunately, I no longer think my mom was right, and I no longer feel guilty about my fingernails.  You see, Bubba drinks milk like he's afraid he'll never see it again.  In fact, I have to bribe him to drink something other than milk sometimes.  And still, he has shredding fingernails.  Obviously low calcium is not the issue.

Long after "fingernails" became a routine, we still had to deal with toenails and Bubba's insanely unreasonable fear of toenail clippers.  At some point, the sharp ends of his toenails got so bad that, fear or not, those suckers were going to have to come off.  To make a long task into a short story, we eventually we got around to trimming Bubba's toenails, which took a lot of persuasion and coaxing and probably some other activities best not described.  Of course, we showed him the pieces of his claws -- I mean toenails -- that we cut off before we put them in the trash.  Bye, bye toenail pieces.  All was well that ended with a smile.

So far so good, right?  We have shredding fingernails, and we remove the shreds.  We have growing toenails, and we clip them, right?  Only ... that doesn't seem to be what Bubba understood about our discussions on fingernails and toenails.

My first clue came when Bubba was climbing into the car to go to preschool.  He said, "Mommy, can you help me with my shoenail?"

His what?

"Your what?"

"Can you please help me with my shoenail?"

Because, like all of the dumbest parents, I still wasn't getting it, he showed me.  His sneakers were wearing out, and part of the sole was had started to pull off a little sliver, much like the slivers that come off his fingernails.  Finally, the nature of our multi-month miscommunication dawned on me clearly.  A little shaving on a finger = a fingernail.  A sliver cut from the toe = a toenail.  A little sliver or shaving from the sole of a shoe = a shoenail.


So, what do I do?  Do I correct him and explain what a fingernail really is?  Well, I thought about it, and I really did try, but we were getting late for school, and my 2 second explanation didn't seem to sink in over the worry about the shoenail and why mommy wasn't fixing it.  I resorted to explaining that mommies can't fix shoenails, and the only way to fix shoenails was to buy new shoes.

About a week later, a little pull appeared on his plastic playmat from one of his books, that he likes to call his "map".  I didn't know about this little pull right away, but I figured it out soon enough when he started complaining about a "mapnail."

The worst part is, Mommy has no fix for mapnails either.


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