Morning time, reading time, play time, going-for-a-walk time, visiting-the-tiger time, nap time, lunch time, Skype time, playing-with-the-cat time, dinner time, night time, middle-of-the-night time – she has words for every occasion.

Now, she even lets us know her desire to do things by referring to herself in the third person and announcing “MaWoo do!” She’s not confusing herself with her mama; for her, this “Ma” is with an “a” as in “apple.” She can do everything from scrub toilets to talk on the phone, if she is to be believed.

During meals, while we sit catty-corner, sometimes reading (right now, we’re part way through Kipling’s The Jungle Book, having read through some of the Mowgli bits which really are astonishingly unlike the Disney version), sometimes talking, she is usually able to hold up her end of the conversation. Well, I suppose she monologues more than she dialogues, but it’s still interactive. “Duck sad,” she often says, only “sad” comes out more like “dad,” but shorter and faster, as if she wants to hurry past the sadness. She signs one version of sadness, too, drawing her finger down her cheek from her eye, to show that he really was sad.  “That’s right,” I encourage. “Duck was sad.” Shaking her head sadly, she says, “Catch. Catch star.” She waits; we each have a role, and we have to play them out. Isn’t that how a conversation goes, though? “That’s right; he can’t catch the star.” Her turn again. She flaps her arms again and says, “Die.” By this she means “fly.” (In other scenarios, she might mean “side”; no flapping accompanies that.) “That’s right; the star flies away.”

To the outside observer, this conversation would seem apropos of nothing – and maybe it is. It doesn’t have a thing to do with her lunch of cottage cheese and pears, or leftover pizza and tomatoes, or a sandwich (with plenty of mayo, thanks to Daddy) and grapes. It’s certainly not related to The Jungle Book, not to Mowgli’s stories or those of Kotick the white seal, Toomai of the Elephants, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, or anyone else we’ve met so far. It is, however, very linked to her world – and WordWorld, which is really synonymous with TV for her. Her TV watching has included bits and pieces of other things but mostly this show. (Yes, I know the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages screen time for children under two, but we read and talk so much that it’s difficult to feel bad about watching an hour or less a week together.)

We watched WordWorld’s “The Christmas Star” episode several times during the holidays because it caught her fancy, and she’d talk about it, like she still does.  Duck tries to catch the Christmas star to give to his friend Frog, and he lassos it but it flies off, leaving him in a snowbank, and he’s sad – until his friends sneak the letters to him so he can make a star which he can then use to top the tree, making all of his WordFriends – and himself – happy.

WordWorld's "The Christmas Star," Episode 125 ("Episode")

I wish that she could consistently find that kind of calm and happiness at bedtime. Last Friday, her non-sleeping was in full effect. “Pat, Mama,” she must have said twenty times, as she asked me to pat her back as she lay in her crib. An hour and forty-five minutes later, she was no closer to sleeping than she had been before, and out of sheer frustration, I left her in her crib to cry because I felt near crying myself.

About two minutes later, I couldn’t take the sobbing anymore, either; it was far, far worse than her talking instead of sleeping, maddening though that was.

As I came back into the room, she stopped crying and stretched her arms out to me, her hero, her rescuer. Her heavy post-sob-breathing broke the quiet. Face wet and blotchy with tears, she looked up at me from her crib and hiccuped, “MaWoo dad.” She traced a finger down her cheek, then reached up for me with both arms. “Hole [hold], Mama.” As I picked her up, she said, “Hug,” and wrapped her arms around me.

Even as I comforted her, wrapping my arms around her as tightly as she wrapped her arms around me, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I felt protective and love-full and achy, knowing how sad she was – and it wasn’t just the tears that told me. SHE told me, in her own varied words and phrases. My marvel of a girl, whose brain was and is surely clicking and whirring like a perpetual motion machine, could find the words she needed, even in her time of tears. She needed me to comfort her, and I felt the warmth of her relief. In this scenario, however, I was both the arsonist and the firefighter, starting and extinguishing the blaze. I felt guilt on both sides, too: guilt for starting the conflagration, and guilt for getting credit for putting out what was my own doing. I kissed her wet face. What else could I do?

“Sorry,” I said as I held her close. Sometimes, that’s the only word we need.

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“Episode Descriptions.” WordWorld: Where Words Come Alive. WordWorld, 2010. Web. 8 January 2012.

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