It never ceases to amaze me how children use the sounds and words in their library to express an idea or a word they cannot quite yet pronounce. Psychologists and therapists have a phrase for this. I couldn't tell you what that is right now because I'm too busy enjoying the smile on my face.
I can't help it.
If you've ever had kids you know what this feels like. You remember with perfect clarity the words your kids said to convey something they couldn't say. All kids do this.
For the life of her, my four-year-old daughter just can't pronounce the word "flamingo."
She says, tö-mango.
The first time I heard it I didn't understand what she was saying, but the conviction in her locked knees and in her scrunched up face told me that I had better understand what she was saying and fast, or else. Tö-mangos are serious business. And they are not to be trifled with.
"Daddy . . ."
"They are pink!
"They are pretty!
"They can stand on one leg!
"And, they are pink!
"And they have feathers just like birds.
"Is a tö-mango a bird?"
She explained all the things a tö-mango can do. She even stood on one foot to illustrate her point, in case I hadn't ever seen one before. Mind you, we had just gotten back from one of our weekly trips to SeaWorld. She spent about ten minutes watching them, studying them, wondering why they were pink, because some of them were not and their feathers were still very dark. She couldn't stop talking about tö-mangos.
I couldn't understand what she was talking about. I asked her to repeat the word over and over.
Sometimes being a parent sucks.
It occurred to me at that moment that I might have to ask my oldest daughter to check my status with the Wizarding World because for a brief second I felt like a muggle, dull, unimaginative, and unable to decode the simplest, most beautiful word my daughter could say in place of flamingos. I felt like such a dope.
She looked at me with her four-year-old eyes and with all the seriousness and belief in her heart she summoned the sass to say: Daddy, you know. You've seen them. TÖ-MANG-GOES. They're big pink birds!
I looked to my wife hoping she could decode. She was even more lost than I was.
Tö-mango, I repeated in my head. Tö-mango. Tö-mango.
My three-year-old son popped up from the couch and shouted from the headrest, "Tow Mater."
"Not Cars!" my daughter shouted.
He leaped into a round of Tow Mater. Singing and laughing and singing some more. "Tow Mater. Tow Mater. Tow Mater. Tooooo Mater!" My son's favorite Disney character is Mater from Cars. Not that that needed clarification. But, you know, just in case I lost you.
I was in stitches but I couldn't laugh out loud for fear that I might upset my daughter. Tö-mangos are serious business!
"Tö-mango," my daughter said, annoyed with her little brother. "Pink birds, daddy—"
And then the light went on. I had an Edison Moment. Flamingo! "Oh, you were saying flamingo."
She nodded her head, relieved, grinning so brightly that I could count every baby tooth of hers.
And then, I asked her if she knew why flamingos were pink.
She shook her head. "No . . . Why are they pink, daddy?"
"Because they like to eat shrimp."
And then her eyes went wide. Wider than you can possibly imagine. Wider still. Behind those bright beautiful eyes I saw awe. I saw adventure. I saw the plate of shrimps she had eaten the night before, reappear in her mind. I saw her count them with her eyes. She was elated.
She loves to eat shrimp. Can't eat enough of the shelly crustaceans.
"Tö-mangoes like shrimp, like me?"
"Yup. Just like you."
She turned it on me, and asked, "How many shrimps do they need to turn pink?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. How many do you think it takes?"
"100!" she exclaimed.
That was good enough for me.
"Will I turn pink too," she asked, "if I ate that many shrimps?"
But she never gave me a chance to answer her. She skipped off and ran over to her mom to tell her that tö-mangoes eat shrimp. "Just like me!"
"Can we have shrimp for dinner? Please. But not the crunchy ones. Those are gross! And not the spicy ones. Those are hot! I like shrimp. Just shrimp."
I found a flamingo feather the other day. I gave it to her. It's sitting in a special place, right next to her Harry Potter wand, a curled up twig we found on one of our walks, right next to her books were her imagination sleeps until it flies off again.