The Two-by-Four Argument


I’m guessing my nephew is the only child who ever intentionally gave himself a speech impediment to win an argument.

He was a bright little kid, and ornery as the dickens. He loved teasing his mom and would go to great lengths to out-argue her. And, because he was so dang cute about it, we let him get away with almost everything.

IMG_0012.jpgSo, about a month before his 4th birthday, his mom started telling him it was time for some changes. She said that when he turned 4, he had to start sleeping in his own bed. He had to get fully dressed every day instead of running around in his underwear. And, by the way, he also had to wear everything correctly. (He liked to wear his Underoos backward so he could see the Superhero characters. You’ve gotta be skinny to pull off that move!)

The boy was having none of it. He told her a flat no to all her requests.

She held firm and told him that all 4-year-olds wear pants. It was the law.

This is where the kid put his imagination to work. He announced to everyone that he wasn’t turning four. He was turning two-two.

We thought this was going to be short-lived, but he kept to it the entire year. He even refused to say the word four, and replaced it with two wherever possible.

What’s important to know is that he wasn’t reading & writing at this age, so he had no idea what homophones were. He replaced everything that sounded like four, to interesting results:IMG_0006.jpg

  • Instead of “I got this for you,” he would say, “I got this to you.”
  • Forward became two-ward (not t’wards, like we say in the Midwest, but toowards)
  • A forest was a two-est
  • When evil scientists on his cartoons talked about their evil formula,  he repeated back to the t.v., “evil two-mula.”

The amazing thing was that he never sat down to work all this out – it just came naturally out of his mouth. And it all worked so well in context that we adults just accepted the language shift and moved on.

He grew out of all of this, as kids do.

But I hope I’m around when that kid turns forty. I’m curious whether he’ll spend a year being twenty-twenty.

Grandpa’s Navigation

When I was little, I thought my grandpa had installed an advanced navigational system in his car. This was crazy, as it was the 70’s. Not only did we not have computers, we didn’t even have LED screens. Heck, even the radio was a twist-dial that only got AM!

Nevertheless, when GPS was developed a couple decades later, I was more surprised than anyone else. I had never realized that this sort of system didn’t exist until suddenly everyone was talking about it.

How did I wind up at this absurd notion? Let’s consider the evidence:

Whenever we went anywhere in his car, grandpa would insist on going out to “get it ready” at least 5-10 minutes early. Sure, in the winters we had to warm up those old cars for a good while before you put it in gear. But I naturally assumed he had a purpose to this the rest of the year, too.

As soon as we piled into the car, grandma would ask, “Now, are you sure you know where you’re going?”

Rather than a yes or no answer, grandpa would say, “Don’t worry. We’ll get there.

As a grown and married woman, I now realize this translates to, “I’ll point the car in the general direction and hope things turn out alright.”  But as a kid, I figured he had some sort of ace in the hole to help him make that statement with such certainty.

And now here’s the kicker: when we got to the next town, grandpa’s turn signal would start blinking a good quarter mile before the actual turn!

I didn’t know anything about cars in those days. I had no idea he was nudging a lever to turn the signal on because I never saw him do it. So I got the notion that the signal was telling him when to turn.

This felt true because almost every time, when grandma would say, “Your turn’s coming up – you have to slow down!” grandpa would suddenly sit up straight, looking as alarmed as anyone that he was coming up on the turn too fast. I figured he hadn’t noticed that his blinker had been going for several minutes.

Grandpa always had a confident air about finding things, the same relaxed, no-worries approach of people nowadays who are using GPS. No matter how convinced grandma was that we’d taken a wrong turn, he’d always maintain that we were fine, right on time, gonna be there in any moment. And when we finally reached it, even if the house we were visiting suddenly appeared to be on the opposite side of the street of where they’d both been looking, he’d shift into park with a flourish and and give grandma a jaunty grin.

Yes, kids, in our day we didn’t have fancy computers with accurate navigation. We got by on cockiness, patience, and luck.

Oh, and it helped that none of the passengers could pull up maps on their phones to prove we were going the wrong way.


Walk of Fame

It was my first professional job after college and I was eager to make a good impression. Gawky, self-conscious, and shy, I had been hired at a newspaper that I’d always respected. They had 100 people on staff, about half in the offices, so I assumed I was just another face in the crowd, easily forgotten.

Because I started on the swing shift, there was never a spot in the parking lot when I arrived and I had to park a block away and walk down the sloping hill to get to the office. This would have been fine except that I quickly realized that half the office faced the bank of windows which I had to walk past, and so few people used that sidewalk that any movement out there automatically drew the eye of every bored worker.


This was especially bad for me because I was so clumsy I often stumbled when I walked fast. So each morning I began my day by strolling slowly past all the people I hoped to one day impress, trying to watch my posture and not do anything embarrassing.

That aim was short-lived.

I remember it vividly, walking down the hill one clear summer day about two weeks after I took the job. An odd sensation came over me, one of impending doom. I heard a wooshing sound and sensed something coming at my head.

In one of the rare cases in my life of acting on instinct, I dropped to a squat, high heels and all, and brought my hands up in defense.

My attacker missed me and kept aiming right at the building.

It was a redwing blackbird dive-bombing my head. I had no idea that bird attacks were real outside of Hitchcock movies. Apparently the darned thing had hatchlings in a nest just a few yards beyond where I was walking and it took me for a predator.

All of this I learned later. At the time, I crouched on the sidewalk, incredulous, wondering what in the world I’d done to deserve that.

Then I realized I’d done this right in front of the office. And I still had to walk in the main doors and trudge past 3/4 of the staff to get to my desk.

I stood up tall and traipsed along as though nothing odd had just happened. Just outside the door, I took a deep breath and thought, “I hope no one noticed that.”

Yeah, right.

Two steps in, I realized that everyone in the office was talking about it. Someone had spotted the bird coming at me and called everyone’s attention to it in the split second before I reacted.

The girls at the front desk said something along the lines of, “You poor thing.” Most people grinned or chuckled and got back to work.

But this one guy in the far corner of the office shouted out, “Nice bird dodge!” and started slow-clapping me.

I scurried to the back room, not acknowledging a soul, and got right to work. I thought if I didn’t say anything, it would die. Nope. I was “the bird girl” for my first two months there.

It could have been worse. I’m not known for my reaction time, let alone avoiding disasters, so I’ve always been thankful that I managed to not get head-splatted by a nasty bird that day.

In retrospect, “Nice bird dodge!” is one of the cooler things anyone has ever shouted at me.

Trying to Stay Asleep

I’ve never shared this with anyone, but when I was very young I had some strange, intense, and oddly complicated dreams. I still remember most of them, but one from when I was 4 stands out as by far the most trippy.

It started with me “waking up” in a different universe. Everyone around me was an alien, like nothing I’d ever seen before. They were spongy blobs in pyramid shape, purplish-green with one large eye centered below a smaller eye.

I’m no artist, so try to imagine Grimace + the Coneheads + Leela

It took me a bit to realize I was one of those aliens, too, and that I could understand their oop-oop language. I was scared of them, particularly the two who kept telling me they were my parents.

Eventually they explained that I was one of them, a little kid, and that I was groggy from waking up from a hibernation sleep. They said that everything in our world was just part of my dream, that the Earth had never really existed. I started crying because I wanted to go back to my family.

Eventually, my alien mom took pity on me and told me I could sleep again and try to go back to this dreamworld. But she told me sternly that the next time I woke up, I’d have to shake it off, forget everything, and be part of their world.

I went back to sleep and … returned to our universe.

When I got up the next morning, I was somewhat convinced that it was real, that I’d stumbled onto the truth somehow. I don’t want to admit how long I at least partially believed this whole thing might have been real. I never told anyone, of course, because worst-case scenario was that they’d think I was crazy and start worrying about my mental health, while best-case had them believing me and being sad when they realized that you all only exist in my imagination.

I was one weird kid.

Part of this has always stuck with me, however. Throughout my life, whenever I’ve pictured going to Heaven, I always imagine every new arrival saying exactly what I said when I ‘woke up’ into that dream:

“Dang it, not now! I was just getting to the good part!