A asked me what a word meant for the first time tonight. I came home to find her crying and yelling at her dad through the bedroom door because he wouldn’t go in and tuck her in for (I’m assuming) the eleventh time.

I went in her room to talk some sense into her and she scurried back to her bed, which was full of toys. I suggested that maybe the toys were keeping her from being able to focus on sleeping.

A: “What is?”
me: “What is what?”

A: “You say.”

me: “I say what?”

A: “You say. What is?”

me: “What is what?”

A: “Focus”

me: “Oh! You mean what does the word focus mean?”

A: “Yeah.”

me: “Um, it means to give something all your attention. Like, you’re not thinking about anything else.”

Here are three reasons why I think this moment between us was a really big deal, and I think more attention should be paid to this developmental milestone for kids:

First, she’s gone all two years ten months of her life hearing me use words she didn’t understand. And – like any of us would if we were in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language – until now she smiled and pretended she understood. But today was the day she decided she needed a bit more clarity.

Second, she asked me about an abstract concept. She wanted a definition, which isn’t something she can point to and ask for that way. Even “focus” – the word she wanted defined – is pretty abstract. I know she wasn’t imitating someone else she heard asking for a definition because she did it in such an unconventional way.

Third, our smart cookie was changing the subject. She didn’t want to relinquish any of the toys in her bed. By engaging me in a conversation about semantics she might be able to pull my attention away from trying to taking away her toys.

She didn’t seem impressed with my definition. I convinced her to keep two of the smallest toys and let me put the rest away. After I left the room, she fell fast asleep.