The word “what” has may meanings and can be used in various ways. But I don’t want to write an essay about it as I’m not a linguist nor am I a philologist. I want to write about an eighteen months old toddler, our Great-grandson Lucas, and the way he uses this word and I’m sure he does not know too many meanings of it.
Every time we see him after a short break we are surprised how he has grown and developed. So. it is no wonder that we gaze at him with curious eyes and wonderment. In earlier days he would hang on to Mum’s or Dad’s neck and consider for a moment whether he should cry. Over time he has got used to the sight of us very old people (Great-Grandparents) who stare at him and can’t get enough of him.
Now he can, while still hanging onto the neck of Mum or Dad, or Grandma, produce a very slight smile of recognition. His lips twitch a little and he looks back at us without showing any fear. But if we dare to look, what he considers to be for too long, with our doubtless adoration than he will call out, “What?”
What indeed? Why do we look at him like this? Haven’t we ever seen a boy before? Our behaviour seems incomprehensible to him. He wants us to clarify our behaviour. All right, we calm down and he starts to explore our home. He wants to check out a wild theory he has developed during earlier visits.
He runs away from the dining room, through the kitchen, turns left into the hall way, left again through the living room and arrives at the dining room were he finds the same people, sitting around the table and still jacking away. His face is beaming, he knows his theory must be right; if you walk in a circle you return to the place of your departure. No matter what. And he also knows that some of the people will welcome him with cries of, “There you are!” This commotion, while not unexpected by him, is going too far and he will shout, “What?”. This time you can see in his face that he is puzzled by our behaviour and he thinks it is time to give us a lecture.
He takes a backward step, rises his right arm and points his outstretched index finger, for emphasis, like an old Greek philosopher into the air and starts to speak. It is incomprehensible to us because we have forgotten how to speak like a toddler. As far as we are concerned his words could be in a language from another planet. Words of his invention are pouring out of him. You can see in his little glowing face that he is serious, deadly serious. And if any of us grown-ups is still laughing he will direct another “What” at him or her.
After a while he turns and gives up on us dummies. Only Great-Grandma knows how to calm him down. She leads him to another room. A small case full of Matchbox cars can be found in there. Some of them are thirty years old and have not seen the light of day for a long time.
The cars are brought to the table. Lucas is settling down with them and plays like as if he has done this before. After a few different tries he puts them all in a line, bumper to bumper so to speak. Cars of many types and shapes, like a tractor or a Berlin double-decker bus, a bus he has never seen before. Everything he lines up in the same direction.
Here is a photo of a reconstruction of what he did. We were too slow in thinking of taking a photo while he was doing it.
Lucas is a serious chap and anything he does has meaning attached to it, at least for him. We, the old people, are only to ignorant to grasp the fact that every day a toddler like him can make great discoveries. We are too old and hardly anything surprises us. But seeing Lucas we can re-experience with him the world with fresh eyes and we can say with astonishment, “What ! That’s amazing.”
And with that we mean Lucas and the beautiful world, that is out there, for him to discover. Stay tuned.