My Son’s Secret Code Word For Me: A Donkey Sound

17 months.

After 90 minutes of napping together in a rocking chair in an upstairs bedroom at our friends Jamie and Peter’s house yesterday, my son Jack woke up slightly sweaty, drying himself off on my luxurious Italian arm hair.

He was disorientated. I could see him trying to figure it all out:

Why was he in a little girls’ bedroom? Why did he fall asleep in his Daddy’s arms as opposed to a crib? Was he still in a dream, like in the movie Inception?

Finally he looked up at me with curious eyes and plainly announced our mutual code word…


Then I said it back to him.

As explained in Stuff My 15 Month Old Says: Current Top 7, “bah-bah” is Jack’s way of making a donkey sound.

It’s recognized as the donkey sound only because of the almost sad, dropping tone Jack uses to imitate a donkey; not because of the word “bah-bah” itself, which doesn’t actually sound like a donkey.

By speaking our mutual, exclusive code word, it was as if to say:

“Okay, Dad. I don’t know how we got in this weird place. But you’re here too, so I’m sure you can find a way to get us out of here. Right?”

I led him downstairs to the living room where he remembered the school bus slide he was playing on earlier, before he got hit by the tranquilizer dart… metaphorically speaking.

He was safe and back to having fun. But he wouldn’t have left that room upstairs if it weren’t for us assuring each other with our code word.

How did “bah-bah” (with a dropping inflection) become our secret word?

Jack is in his car seat in my car for at least an hour every weekday. Sometimes when I haven’t heard a peep out of him in over 10 minutes, I check on him by using our code word.

He always answers back with it.

Then after that became normal for us (go ahead, give yourself a second or two to take that in) I started saying the code word when I pick him up from daycare every day.

It’s not, “Hey Jack, I’m here! I missed you son!”

It’s “bah-bah.”

Personally, I think having a donkey sound for a secret code word is pretty original. Especially for the fact that it’s taking the tone of one animal sound and masking it with the phonetic sound of another.

That would be like mooing a monkey sound; if that’s even possible.

Now Jack and I need a secret handshake.

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  1. by ferne emery

    On April 22, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Is it just me, or does anyone else ever turn around during that 10 minutes of silence to make sure your child is actually there? I get nervous that I intended to drop my son off at his daycare, but I actually forgot…..and kept on going. Thank God I am paranoid.

  2. by Nick Shell

    On April 23, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Yes, I go through that nearly every day! I may need to write about it… thanks Ferne!

  3. by Jane

    On April 23, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Bah-bah in a dropping tone means precisely Daddy in Chinese! So Jack got both the phonetics and the tone right (both are critical in Chinese to mean the right thing)! Congrats!

  4. by Nick Shell

    On April 23, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    That is SO weird and SO cool! Thanks for the enlightenment, Jane :)

  5. by Sarah

    On April 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    When I put my son to bed, I say, “I love you like crazy.” Then (I don’t know why I started it; I think it’s from a pop song or something) I sing, “I do, I do, I do, I do… bop bop bop bop.” Anyway, when he was eight or nine months old, he started to say, “bop bop,” before I could sing the nonsense pop song thing. In my head, when he’s older, and too embarrassed to say “I love you,” we’ll just say “bop bop.” It’s a comforting thought, you know?

  6. by Nick Shell

    On April 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I think that’s a good plan!