My daughter, she’s got her weird side. And by weird, I mean creepy. Especially back when she was just a little bitty Kidlet.
Back in the days when I could still lay her on my bed and change her or dress her after a bath, she would suddenly look up at the ceiling, stare for a minute, then get this really animated expression on her face and start waving her little arms and legs. Sometimes she’d make that little bubbly thing babies do with their mouths before they can talk. She’d lie there for several minutes, waving and bubbling and staring devotedly at nothing I could see, seemingly being entertained by textured white paint.
I figured it must be the spirits of three of my cousins who died very young, watching over her and putting on some silly show to entertain her. Either that or my infant child was madly in love with bumpy white blankness. Whatever the answer, she ceased doing it by the time she could walk, and later claimed she had no memory of it at all.
Moving along, Kidlet started talking at around 19 months. Due to her preemie-hood, her speech was slightly delayed, but even more than that, it was hard to understand. Preemies have a lot to catch up on. Their nervous systems are not fully developed, and it often takes them longer to figure out how to manage the things their own bodies can do.
She did learn to talk, though, and once she got beyond calling everything “da-da”, she began to try out new words. Problem was, we couldn’t understand half of what she said. With persistence, I figured out most of it and got pretty good at translating Kidlet-to-English when we were around other people. “Cotchit goo-gween”, for instance, meant “chocolate ice-cream.” “Pow-pow” was “pillow”. “Cedar” meant “see ya later”. There were several others which escape me at the moment, but you get the idea.
There was one word, however, that escaped us. She wanted something called “doo-deans”. I remember being at my parents’ house once when Kidlet asked for “doo-deans”, and my mother and I drove ourselves to distraction trying to figure out what it was. Green beans? Blue jeans? “Do this”? We struck out. Poor kid got frustrated with us for not knowing what she meant, but honestly, when they don’t come with a dictionary, it’s hard.
Like the wiggling-at-the-ceiling thing, she eventually stopped asking for doo-deans, too. I asked her about it later, after she’d been in school for a few years, and she could not tell me. Just like the previous incident.
So time goes by, and now Kidlet is an old woman of 20. Her earlier behavior makes cute little stories to tell. I’ve long since given up on figuring it out.
And then one day I sat down to knit and to watch a rerun of “Murder, She Wrote”. The episode, set in Ireland, was titled “A Killing in Cork”. One of the characters saw fairies and leprechauns in the graveyard. Specifically she mentioned something called the gancanagh (or gean-cānach).
While I don’t recall the dialogue or the exact plotline, I found a further explanation from William Butler Yeats, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888):
O’Kearney, a Louthman, deeply versed in Irish lore, writes of the gean-cānach (love-talker) that he is “another diminutive being of the same tribe as the Lepracaun, but, unlike him, he personated love and idleness, and always appeared with a dudeen in his jaw in lonesome valleys, and it was his custom to make love to shepherdesses and milkmaids. It was considered very unlucky to meet him, and whoever was known to have ruined his fortune by devotion to the fair sex was said to have met a gean-cānach. The dudeen, or ancient Irish tobacco pipe, found in our raths, etc., is still popularly called a gean-cānach’s pipe.”
Did you see that? He appeared with a dudeen in his jaw. And the character on “Murder, She Wrote” pronounced it exactly like “doo-dean”. So that’s it! My child was asking for a leprechaun’s pipe!
Yeah, okay. Sure. Why not? Toddlers love to smoke pipes, don’t they?
But maybe that solves the other mystery, too. Maybe those weren’t the baby-cousin angels entertaining her whilst flying around my ceiling.
*cue Twilight Zone music*