There’s nothing more like music to a mother’s ears than being called “stick,” is there. Or is there? Wait, I guess “Mama” would be pretty nice, now that I think about it.
For Baby Boy, though, the world is new, full of sights and smells and objects just waiting to be named, whereas he’s been around me every day of his life, all 11 1/2 months of it. We name those things for him, and some, like “red” or “hat,” pass unnoticed, unremarked, much as we might ignore a word like “pulchritude.” (How is it possible that such an ugly-sounding word means “beauty,” and how could you use it without insulting the source of that beauty?) Others prove to be of some fleeting interest, like “Mamama” or “Da,” which we hear every now and again, just often enough to keep the embers of parental-name pride glowing. Yet others bring joy and rapture and repetition – and Saturday, two days ago, that word was “stick” (which, really, was still only in a tie with and did not supplant “kwuh,” his word for “squirrel,” which seems to represent for him all that is good and fascinating about the outside world. He points, he watches, he looks rapturously outside as he says “kwuh!”, but would he know a squirrel if one ran up to him and dropped an acorn on his head? I’m not sure. But he does love to say “squirrel”!)
It was naptime, and, as is more common than I’d like, Baby Boy was not napping. He was, however, fussing. We were outside, our family of four, with my sisters and their significant others (one husband, one fiance), at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia. As we stood at the playground, a happy home away from home for children near and far, regarding the lake-turned-giant-puddle from the film Dirty Dancing and watching Preschool Girl play, Baby Boy’s fussing continued. To distract him, we held up a stick. (Given the options at our feet, it seemed better than the sand.) “Stick!” we pronounced, as if it were a gold medal, something to be prized and cradled. “Stick!”
“‘tick!” he repeated excitedly.
And then WE seemed like the ones learning the word, because we delighted in the game, each saying “stick!” over and over again.
The trouble with the game, though, is that when you are eleven and a half months old, it is not enough to say the word “stick.” It is not enough to see a stick and know it as a stick, in all its this-used-to-be-part-of-a-tree glory. No, you say “stick!” because you want to hold the stick. You want to hold the stick aloft. You want to brandish the stick in ways that endanger your vision and that of the person holding you. As a responsible parent, then, one must take away the stick. You, the eleven and a half month old, will be bereft. You will cry for your stick. You will call for your stick (since you now have a word for it). You will mourn for the stick you have loved lo these past three minutes. Whoever said it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all has never taken a stick away from a baby. It is a moment of crisis.
And then, thank goodness for the aunts. “Squirrel?” they say.
The crisis is over, for now, with the reminder of another word, another part of the outside world to focus on. Maybe, one of these days, “Mama” or “Dada” will make it back into the regular rotation. We’re outside with him too, right? I guess we just need to grow bushy tails.