The Evolution of Happy

Last October, my daughter Lydia was 17 months old and learning new words rapidly.  One day, we were out for a stroll and saw a large, inflatable Halloween decoration in the form of several grinning jack-o’-lanterns stacked up like a totem pole.  Lydia was very excited and shouted, “Balls!”  I said, “They are pumpkins.  Happy pumpkins.”  She said, “Happy!” for the first time.

As the season progressed, Lydia remained excited about jack-o’-lanterns and shouted, “Happy!” whenever she saw one.  We had to acknowledge that we also saw the Happy–using that word–before she would stop yelling about that one and look around for more.  She stubbornly resisted learning “pumpkin” or any other word; to her, they were Happies.  Even pumpkins without faces were Happies.

Jericho illustration by Brenda SextonIn early November, Lydia rediscovered The Little Golden Bible Storybook, illustrated by Brenda Sexton, and when we reached the story of Jericho, she began shouting, “Happy!!!” and pointing at the illustration.  Do you see why?

I didn’t get it at first.  I thought she was recognizing that Joshua and his tribe were happy when the walls came tumbling down.  That person in red does have arms raised in the gesture Lydia had learned (from Dr. Seuss’s ABC) is called, “Hooray!”  But when I said, “Yes, they were happy!  Hooray!” that was not what she was looking for; “Happy!” she insisted, jabbing her finger frantically at the page.

Eventually her dad realized that what Lydia was pointing out was the building.  See how it has a face like a jack-o’-lantern?  That face doesn’t look happy at all–it looks appalled, as well a building might be when its protective city wall has been abruptly destroyed–but the dark eye and mouth openings must have reminded Lydia of a jack-o’-lantern, and jack-o’-lanterns are Happy.

By the new year, Lydia adjusted her definition of Happy to apply to what most of us would call “a happy face,” and she began pointing out happy faces in various picture books, on shopping bags, on toys, on the Eat’n Park sign, etc.  She also discovered that most people can draw a happy face quite easily, so she went around demanding that people “Draw Happies!”–by the end of one church service, at least five different people had drawn Happies for Lydia on their service leaflets!

P1030279She’s two years old now and has started saying “happy face” or “smiley face”, but she still asks us to draw them frequently.  Our home is littered with sheets of scrap paper that look like this.  Sometimes we put some variety into the faces just for our own entertainment; sometimes she requests “different noses” or something like that.

Meanwhile, she’s also shown that she now understands “happy” as the word for a feeling, not just a facial expression. Sometimes after she’s vented some hurt or frustrated feelings, she’ll wail, “I need to be happy!!” and then calm down. Sometimes when someone else is upset, she’ll plead, “Be happy!” She isn’t quite doing the “Mama, you happy?” thing her older brother used to do, but almost.

A few weeks ago, I had a bad migraine on a day when I had to be home alone with Lydia for a couple of hours.  After I had drawn some happy faces for her, she started drawing on that paper and another sheet, so I was able to lie down on the bed in the same room.

P1030280Some time went by.  I may have passed out or slept or something.  I got up after Lydia climbed up on the bed and started pulling on me.  Later, I was cleaning up the room and got a closer look at her drawing papers.

That blue scribbling at the bottom of the page at right doesn’t look like just an aimless scribble.  Might there be some eyes on a face there?  Is it just my imagination that makes that look sort of like some sort of elephant (with one sock foot)?

P1030281Even more intriguing is the page where Lydia drew after getting hold of a pen.  I really think I see a happy face there!  By this Halloween, she may be drawing her own jack-o’-lanterns.

Watching the fascinating processes of my child’s learning the different things a word can mean and learning to draw works for me!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

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