“I see PURKLE CAT looking at me, dada!”
I must’ve read Eric Carle’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? about 10,000 times when Will was little. We both knew it by heart, and Will loved to name all the animals even before I turned the page. But of all the blue horses, yellow ducks, and black sheep in the book, nothing could top the purkle cat for Will.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out, it’s a purple cat. But for some reason, Will couldn’t pronounce purple for the longest time, so he said “purkle” instead.
At first it was cute. Hell, who doesn’t love the weird toddler language all our kids seem to speak? As kids learn the first few keys to language, there’s something to be said for being able to understand them and serve as a translator for relatives who have absolutely no idea what their babble means. Whether it’s “pasketti” (spaghetti) or any of these cute kid mispronunciations, it’s a part of the journey to which nearly all of us can relate.
But Will was my first and I was more interested in the destination back then.
After the first few “purkle” cats, I was done with the cuteness. I wanted Will’s words to be said clearly and correctly, and I must’ve said “No buddy, PUR-PULL. Can you say PUR-PULL??” enough times to bring both of us to tears. And there were tears. The purkle cat became a battle in the war of bedtime story aggression — a bone of contention instead of a point of shared interest.
Eventually he got it right, and I remember celebrating. I actually ran out to tell MJ he finally said purple while declaring parental victory and silently awarding myself Literary Father of the Year. But I was confused (and more than a little pissed) at her reaction, which was one of dismay.
“Awwwww, that’s too bad,” she said. “I kind of liked purkle.”
I found Brown Bear again while looking for some books for Sam. I smiled a bit as I thumbed through it, and then I came to the purple cat. But instead of reliving (what I thought at the time was) a victorious moment of reading comprehension, I cringed. I realized I missed purkle cat, and recalled him with fond memories instead of frustration. So I took it to Will to rekindle a little nostalgia.
“Hey pal, do you remember this book?” I said with a smile. “Specifically, do you remember this guy?”
Will looked quizzically at the page with his former feline friend, and gave me a disinterested shrug.
“Oh c’mon. I read this to you every night for 18 months. And you used to get so excited when I flipped to this page and you’d shout ‘PURKLE CAT!’ over and over.”
And then he looked at me and dropped the hammer.
“Purkle?” Will said with a disdainful look. “Why would I say purkle? That’s wrong. It’s a purple cat. Purkle sounds silly.”
He’s right, purkle was silly. But it was also kind of wonderful. I’ve said before I don’t lament my kids growing up, and that’s still true. However, I do regret the times I’ve pushed that progress unnecessarily, and failed to enjoy what’s right in front of my face. I regret prematurely sending the purkle cat into the litterbox of forgotten childhood whimsy.
Sam’s words come slower and later than his older brother’s. I’d be lying if I said that hasn’t been a source of concern and consternation. But you know what? The words will come. Some will come easily and accurately, and others will result in hilarious mispronunciation.
When the latter happens, I’ll greet Sam’s purkle cats with the wisdom of hindsight and the appreciation only experience brings. After all, he has his whole life to be right and only moments, it seems, to be young.