I was sitting on the playroom floor when my 17 month old grandson threw a small plastic ball at me. Actually it was a small plastic rock that came with his nifty little front loader that I just happened to buy him, but it looked like a ball. He nailed me right between the eyes. It was like David and Goliath. Only I yelled, “OW!” and fell over laughing. From that moment on, this new game of throwing the ball at people was called, OW. No matter what Liam was throwing, if he was aiming it at a person, he would yell “OW!” as he threw it.
Of course it got worse, because the more he yelled, OW! the more we laughed and the harder he would throw. I knew I had screwed this kid up for life. He had learned a new word but it was the wrong definition. A few months later he got a little closer to the true definition, well not really. Liam began to use the word OW whenever he felt he was being made to do something he didn’t want to, such as, being buckled into the shopping cart. As daddy would buckle him in, Liam would begin yelling, “OW! OW! OW!” as if he was being tortured. Getting buckled into the car seat produced the same response. It’s one thing to be on the floor of the playroom using the wrong definition, but being out in public draws a whole new level of interest in the wee one who is dramatically pleading, “OW! OW! OW!”
How would we ever re-teach him the meaning of OW? I’m thinking he’ll have to discover it on his own. One day when he is truly hurt, someone will say OW and he’ll put it together. It made me think of how many words I’ve had to re-learn: wealth, safety, success, happy, love, trust, commitment, to name just a few. What experiences did I have to go through before I began to understand the meaning of trust? How much did I have to lose to understand wealth? How old was I when I began to know what love looked like? And as for the meaning of life, that definition changes frequently.
At first OW was a game. It than became an uncomfortable situation. Some day it will really mean pain. It’s part of growing up. It’s part of life. Perhaps the wisdom we gain as we age isn’t really wisdom. Maybe it’s just the right definitions.