Does your child know more than you do?

Mine does. He’s eight.

People often comment on how much he knows about animals and their evolution. A few days ago I was watching a film with him in which this bizarre little animal appeared:


“That’s a honey badger,” he told me immediately. “They love eating honey but they sometimes attack lions to steal their meat. They’re not scared of anything.”

When I asked him how he knew all this, he immediately answered,
“Because I watch educational TV.”

The real biggie, though, is that he speaks Italian better than I do now. When I read him bedtime stories, he often has to explain the tricky and unusual words to me. Italian has heaps and heaps of words for ways that animals move and chew things, it transpires, and they are all at least 20 syllables long.

Italian has single consonants and double consonants which sound completely different, and I have been pronouncing some of them wrongly for the last twenty years, the little lad assures me.

He also helps me with the conjugation of verbs in the passato remoto, a past tense I consider entirely redundant in Italian. They have plenty of past tenses – honestly, loads of them – which I diligently memorised out of a pocket grammar book in my twenties. I practised using every verb I could by talking to nuns at bus stops all over the Province of Como. Kind and flirtatious waiters in Rome and Florence jotted irregular verbs down for me on paper napkins, which I duly memorised and then wiped my face with. I tell you, I worked very hard at it. Some of those nuns had hairy moles and seriously bad breath.

By the time my little sister graduated in Italian and gave me her old university text book, I found pages and pages of irregular verbs in the passato remoto, a tense I had never even heard of until then. Even more off-puttingly, they were all annotated in pencil with fiendishly clever-sounding linguistical observations and cunning little symbols like this ˈdattʃi ˈɔddʒi (i)lˈnɔstro ˈpane kwotiˈdjano and handy aide-memoires such as ‘fricative bilabial NOT [underlined three times] mute alveo-lateral consonant cluster’.

“It’s a good job she noted that down”, I thought to myself, “otherwise I might have got my pronounciation WAAAAAY off!”

Actually, I didn’t. There was no way I needed yet another past tense. I had plenty. In ten years of marriage my ignorance of this tense has never, ever impeded me when nagging my husband about flicking bread crumbs all around the kitchen (he even gets them to stick on the curtains), telling off naughty children for pestering stray dogs, or haggling with village fishermen over the price they want for a kilogramme of octopus. Seriously, I just don’t need it.

But then, imagine my horror when I found out that children’s story books are all written in this dratted tense. So THAT’S what it’s for!

My son is so irritated by my ignorance of it, and so determined to rectify this gaping hole in my knowledge, that he can actually reel off the conjugation of any verb in the passato remoto when he has already reached that lovely warm, floppy stage kids go into when they have almost nodded off, I am on the last page, and he is even starting to snore a little bit.

Last night, Mowgli had already entered the Man-Cub village, Bagheera and Baloo were happily walking away, and I too was about to sneak out of my son’s bed and leave him for the night. He detected my tell-tale hesitation before a verb I did not know well enough, on the very last page, and suddenly started murmuring:

“Listen Mummy, it’s io andai, tu andasti, egli andò…. zZZZ   Z    zzzZZZZZZ   ZZZZz  Zzzz…….”

I suppose I should at least be happy that I get off more lightly than Hubby. You see, my Usband, e don’t speaka the English very well. Our son sometimes provides interpreting services, but more often makes fun of him mercilessly.

Therefore Hubby was particularly amused to hear about our son’s Italian homework yesterday, in which he had to invent a sentence using the word ‘Gladiator’.

“Do you know what a gladiator is?” I asked him.

“Yes Mummy,” he answered, “It’s a man who just keeps gladiating wherever he goes.”

Russel Crowe - well known for gladiating all over the place
Russel Crowe – well known for gladiating all over the place

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Stellar post, as usual!


  2. Expat Eye says:

    Ha ha, sounds like you’ve got a budding genius there! Maybe I should have a kid and then in 5 or 6 years, he/she can teach me Latvian 😉


    1. Ah, but you’d have to marry a Latvian man, wouldn’t you? Could you face it?
      (I still haven’t forgotten your knicker-wettingly funny post on the “Latvian Snot Rocket”.)


      1. Expat Eye says:

        Wait til you see this evening’s one 😉 Knicker-wettingly – I love that! 🙂


  3. Karolyn Cooper says:

    Brilliant. I love the dangerously truthful voice of an 8 year old.


  4. Thank-you for a good belly laugh so early in the day (8am). Wonderful way to start the day!


  5. Your Italian is seriously better than mine, so this had me cracking up. But forget about verbs, your little guy knows more about dinosaurs than anyone on the planet. Lol. He is soooo smart. Please give him a big hug from me.


    1. Hugs will be delivered! xxx


  6. I like a man who will gladly gladiate 🙂 How do you say that in the romantic remote past tense? My kids are constantly rolling their eyeballs and correcting me on everything – I was writing about that today. I’m considering gift-wrapping Bigfoot and sending him of to NASA – I’m sure he’ll be happy to put them right on a few things. Today I got my wrists slapped because I didn’t cut the wood the same way he does. 0/10 for my cavewoman techniques.


    1. If we put Bigfoot and my Little Lad together, maybe they could design a time machine. Or how about a robot housewife, so you and I could get some rest and never need to chop wood or wash dishes again?


  7. Your son is smart and cute . I like his definition of Gladiator. Such a happy family 🙂


  8. beba says:

    You are so lucky to have a fun, personal, live-in Italian tutor! And he is lucky to be learning English as well as Italian. If I could have a super-power it would be to know all languages!


  9. pipmarks says:

    Great post. I thought about sending you a link to a great cartoon but I have ended up writing a whole post instead!


    1. Great post! And I loved the cartoon! 🙂


  10. “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”….

    You are gorgeous…love your sicilian adventures…and of course, your approach to life…
    Hello from (near) Rome,
    Luana / a mother of a 7 years boy….a bit like yours….


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