Archives for category: Language

School has started. In fact, school started so long ago that it doesn’t even seem new any longer: on 8/1, Girl returned to school, and Boy began kindergarten! He’s at the Big School, as he likes to say.

He’s been dabbling in reading for a long time. While Girl read her first book at four and a half and, as far as I can tell, never looked back** (or, more to the point, never looked back up), Boy has taken to it like a duck near the water, which is to say that he’s close enough to dip in a webbed foot but maybe he’ll just stay on the shore and eat some tasty bugs, thank you very much.

About two weeks ago, he read Leslie Patricelli’s No No Yes Yes by himself, sounds included – except for the two-page spread at the back, which he could figure out by pictures alone. Tonight, he read the first fifteen or so pages of Mo Willems I’m a Frog. He sounds out words and often plays around with the sounds until they morph into the words they are (like “know,” which is tricky, or other longer words) or the words he thinks they should be – he has a good sense of language, so he often “reads” the text as it might have been written by a different author. He could read words before school started, and school has only increased his interest in words. (He’s long been interested in writing, maybe because it’s a more physical activity?)

In between, he’s done well with Mercer Mayer’s Going to the Sea Park (he read “petting tank”) and Just Pick Us, Please! (in which he read many descriptive words). We read those the same night this week, and when he sounded out or effortlessly read chunks of the book, I turned to him, amazed.

“Do you know what you are?”
“A reader!”
“And how does that make you feel?”
Lying on the bed next to me, Boy punched his two fists in the air. “Like shaking pompoms!” he exclaimed.

Goooooooooo, Boy! we feel like shouting, too. He is, indeed, becoming a reader!

* While I think it’s supposed to be pompons – it comes from the French, so I’ve read – this is how it came out, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
**That’s how you get to be one of the top 100 readers in the state!

“[Girl] is shaking my hand vigorously,” Boy said in the car the other day.

Vigorously? It’s true. She was.

According to my friend Lucie, when he turned two, he said, “I got to be two today!” Because English is her second language, she didn’t realize until she repeated it to her husband that it wasn’t quite right in English – but still, she said, she was impressed, and she repeated it to me today, these two years later.

My mother brought guacamole to celebrate his birthday this year, in remembrance of that same birthday, lo these two years past, when I served guacamole with a little kick. Boy loves guacamole and avocados, but not THAT guacamole. “This guacamole too spicy!” he said, and my mother enjoys reliving that moment, too – the things that kids say, the things that little kids say, the things that this boy in particular articulates.

Today he’s four. You grow older, you grow taller, you grow your vocabulary – and you grow stories, their roots snaking back to birth, pregnancy, conception, beyond. Last night, I told him, as a bedtime story, the story of the day he was born, and I found comfort in sharing his own story – our shared story – with him.

Today, I give Boy my birthday wish: that we – our little family, our larger family, our friends now and our friends to come – will tell tales, share stories, and make happy new ones for many, many years to come.

Because this is what we do. We tie ourselves together with stories, linking our pasts as certainly and inextricably as we can, hoping that nothing will fray at the seams, hoping that the fabric of our lives will only grow stronger, grow more vigorously, together.

Isn’t it funny that we write things on checks that we rarely write during the rest of life? Where else would you find yourself writing out “ninety-eight one hundredths” (even if you usually write it as “98/100”)?

And where or when else would you find yourself writing out – or listening to – things like “I’m not a pretzel, I’m just a boy!” than as the parent of a small (soon to be not-so-small) boy or girl?

The feeling of heart-swelling-burstiness has not reduced, and there are so many great lines that Shakespeare or Brecht or Ibsen or SOMEONE should want to come back and be inspired by them.

Auntie Em visited the other week, and she and Girl went to the Post Office, among other places, and returned with two heart-shaped lollipops. These inspire madness and begging, and if someone could find a way to harness the build up of desire in small children when candy is mentioned (shown, offered, hinted at), we wouldn’t need to search for any more alternative energies. We’d fuel the world.

Or just a lot of stickiness. Girl chomped through hers, but Boy lingered over his. When I had had enough of his lollipop, I took it away – roughly when his sister was done, so they were both empty-handed. He took it well, and life went on. Hours later, he began to pretend-cry, and we wondered what he was going to say: “ah-hunh-hunh-hunh…[he continued in his “I’m being funny” voice] I’m so sad – I can’t eat my lollipop anymore!”

The other day, looking outside, he said, in his sweet serious voice, “I don’t see any birdies anywhere!”

At dinner, he dripped water from his water bottle onto his feet and said, “I spilled some water on my piggy wiggy toes!” (Much like with Girl, we laugh about how a two-year-old should be able to use two to four word sentences. Check!)

This is all a far cry from these favorites from just two months ago, when words were often repeated within a sentence and lots of words had “uh” added at the end, like “Daddy-uh”:

1/18: I will get boogie out nose.
1/19: Let me peel baleema self! (baleema=banana, except when baleema = vitamins)
1/20: Daddy sit you us.
Nannie has tiger, too.
Mama turn on light on, Mama!
In response to “What are you doing?”:
1/21:  Just picking nose out boogie-uh.
2/6: I’m busy day. I’m just doing puzzle, Daddy-uh.
I’m just working this, Daddy (about Daddy’s knee scooter, which was a great source of fascination and requests for rides, while it was needed).

But my favorite, one that’s been around a while, is usually said with joy, with a wee-boy head rested on a mama shoulder: “My mama hold-ee B– Boo!” He often asks to be picked up that way, and he says it with great satisfaction and contentment when he’s been picked up.

Lest Boy get all the glory here, Girl has been holding her own, language-wise. The other day, she told me that Boy was “trudging into the living room.” She also told Daddy that Boy was “gazing up at your foot!” when he was, indeed, lying on his back on the floor, looking up at Daddy’s becasted foot which stuck off the aforementioned knee scooter.

And finally, from 1/20, too: “I love you as much as the stars are bright!” My heart blazed extra that day.

It’s too bad there’s no memo line for life. I’m ninety-eight one hundredths sure I’d remember to use it.

He likes blocks – Duplo and wooden – although he doesn’t seem to love them like he some children do. Throwing them, yes. Building with them, only sometimes. But the building blocks of language? He’s totally in love with those.

“I do.”

We heard a lot of this last November or so. Trying out what may have been his earliest sentence, he exuded confidence, determination, and a strong independent streak. Of course, what child doesn’t want to do things himself? Sure, he wanted to feed himself soup, which sure as soup wouldn’t stay on the spoon. Sure, he wanted to run the bath himself, or climb into the tub alone, or put on his own shoes. Sure, he wanted to get into his car seat himself – never mind that he was as likely to just get in and sit down as he was to drive the car. (Now, he says “Own!” when he wants to do something on his own, like stand on the four-wheeled toy to pull the string of the lamp, for example…)

His vocabulary, which has seemed (to us, as the glowing, proud parents) quite large, continued to grow, and so did his repertoire of sentences.

To help soothe him to sleep while he nursed I’d often murmur repetitive sentences: “Boy goes night-night. Girl goes night-night. Daddy goes night-night. Mama goes night-night. Maria goes night-night. Pepper goes night-night.  K-K goes night-night. Autumn goes night-night….Everybody goes night-night.”

This applied to other bodily functions, too: peeing, pooping, burping – lots of things were listed. (There’s a lot that we all do!)

And he began repeating them.

Sometimes, Daddy would drive him around to get him to sleep, and he’d chatter himself to sleep. “Daddy goes night-night. Mama goes night-night. Nannie goes night-night. Pepper goes night-night….Eveh-body goes night-night.”

He’s still a lister. The other day, he did one of his own creation after seeing a small, round, candy-coated chocolate. “M & M! Mama have M & M. Nannie have M & M. Daddy have M & M. Autumn have M & M….”

He’s built on his foundation.

For Christmas, they got a Duplo block base and an animal set – and brother and sister alike have been engrossed by this new way to create, the possibilities before them.

With language, too, the possibilities stretch before him (and her, of course!). What can we say to this, the march of language that pulls a small boy from babyhood to childhood?

I do.

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

“Fock,” she said the other day, and looked at me craftily – no, not craftily, but testingly, sideways, just a little.

“Fock,” she said again. She waited.

“Oh,” I said. I didn’t laugh, and I didn’t gasp. I remained calm – it’s what I’m practicing, being patient and calm. (It’s working pretty well, too – now, I sometimes stop myself mid-shout: “Why am I shouting? Tell me to be calm!” My daughter then says, “Be calm, Mama!”) Besides, I was thrown for a loop; I hadn’t expected this line of conversation. I was trying to figure out how to address this. You can’t just say, “Wait a minute honey; I’ll be right back after I go read a parenting book for advice on how to deal with this situation.” There’s a lot of improv, and maybe it’s not the kind that would make Second City hire me, but as a parent, you do your best – without cursing yourself for not thoroughly preparing for whatever particular moment you find yourself in.

“Is that OK to say?” she asked.

“Where did you hear it?” I countered.

“At school.” Of course. Preschool is educational in many, many ways.

“Oh. Who said it?”

“One of the kids.” Naturally. Or “natch,” as my daughter sometimes likes to say.

“Fock.” She waited again. “It is a bad word?”

Earlier this week, she came home from preschool, telling me how someone had said “hate,” and that she told the student that that wasn’t a nice thing to say. She also told me that the student went on playing and didn’t pay attention to her. Someone else said, “Stupid blocks!” and she also said that it isn’t nice to call things stupid. In our house, we try to avoid lots of words – and not just the obvious ones. (Once, I said “crap” in front of her, and she repeated it over and over for about a minute. I knew then and there that slipping wasn’t an option because I’d hear about it – and so would many, many other people – for a long time.) We try to avoid saying “hate,” “stupid,” “dumb,” “idiot,” “ugly,” and my big three classroom no-no words and phrases, “gay,” “retarded,” and “shut up,” among others – really, the words that are most likely used disparagingly. We don’t always succeed (for instance, Sandra Boynton is prone to use “ugly,” and Lucy in Peanuts uses the word “stupid,” so you either have to say it or go with “silly” or something else on the spot), but we do our best. I told her then that I was proud of her for using her words and telling them how she felt about those words.

So here, we had “fock.” What to do?

“You know how you told the other kids this week that they shouldn’t say ‘hate’ and ‘stupid’? That was really good, and I’m proud of you. There are lots of words like those, and some other words that just aren’t nice to say. You have to decide for yourself if you’re going to be the kind of person who uses them or not.”

And that was it. She hasn’t said it again, and she didn’t say anything else about it. We all like to test our limits, and we all have to figure out who we are – or whom we’d like to be.  I’d like to think that “fock” disappeared because she has decided that she’s not the kind of person who uses those kinds of words. At least for now.


(9/19/14) Eleven. He has exactly eleven teeth: the eight in front (minus the bit sacrificed to the rock in the front yard) plus three molars, the top right one deciding it would wait just a bit longer to put in an appearance. It’s not a full party without it.

No canine teeth yet, although he does love to see dogs.

It shouldn’t surprise me that things happen differently with him than with his sister, but sometimes it does. She ate solid food more readily than he does. I feel like she had more teeth sooner. You could pat her to sleep, even if it took a long time; he’s not so willing to lie down and be still. She was – and is – a passionate girl, but she’s found her rival. She could be loud, then she could be louder. With Boy, though – well, let’s just say he goes to eleven, just like his teeth.

Only, now that it’s 10/10/14, his half-birthday, he – weighing in at 28 1/2 pounds – has more teeth (that’s what happens when you start a blog posts but Boy wakes up). No more eleven for him! As of last week, or maybe the week before that, he had four more teeth (those canines were barking!), with a fifth new tooth pressing through his gums. The tightness is not unlike a pregnant belly, skin taut, covering the motion and growth it covers, the start of something new.

Tonight, as he was winding down for sleep, Boy roused himself, saying, “Dada. Dada. I luhv-oo. Hug. Down.” He climbed off the bed, said, “Hand,” and held my hand as we walked into his sister’s room, where Dada was, in fact, reading to Girl. Boy hugged them and told them he loved them, just as he’d said he would do.

I went along with it. Really, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

But I also knew that resistance was futile. If I’d stopped him, he’d have gone to eleven – one louder – and who needs anything more than a ten?

Photo from yesterday, after fountain splashing

Photo from yesterday, after fountain splashing



Maybe something funny, like, “I’m moving out!” or “Ready for vacation?” But in this case, no. Just exactly, exactly what you’d hope for, if you were a mama, or at least this mama.

“I love you!” he proclaimed yesterday for the first time. Maybe he really proclaimed something like “I luhv-oo!” – but either way, it was enough to make a mama’s/daddy’s/big sister’s heart warm and swell and become sappy like a maple in the spring. While we’d been working toward bedtime (reading a new favorite, baby loves by William Lach, which pairs simple text with the art of Mary Cassatt – he will “read” lots of it to us!), he wanted to tell “Nannie” (his nickname for his sister) good-night and headed toward the edge of the bed so he could go to her room and see her. I told him “I love you,” and he told me, then Nannie, then Daddy with such inflection that – well, a maple in spring, I was.

His sister had a big day, too – from playing with her friend, a seven-year-old neighbor, she learned to flip over on the swing. She’d already mastered the “put-your-legs-above-your-head” move, so flipping over added a new (but very exciting) step to the process. Gravity? Head pointing away from the center of the earth? Those rules don’t apply to her – at least, not all the time. A new kind of freedom – and lots of cheering from her fan club.

Their mouths and bodies learn to contort themselves, to wrap themselves around new phrases, ideas, and motions, and we cheer, we applaud, we hug, and we revel in all the new things they’ve done, all the new that’s yet to come.

You never quite know what will stick, what comments made in passing will be repeated (coming back either to elate or to haunt you), what thoughts or lessons shared will root themselves deeply. You throw lots of darts at the board, but if you’re like my sister and me when we were kids, the wall and the floor each suffered unduly.

This makes it all the more surprising when you hit the bullseye.

We’ve been signing – inconsistently – with Boy. I’d used the sign for “sad” with him maybe twice, choosing the version in which you trace a tear down your cheek with one finger. Once he was ready for bed tonight he wanted to be picked up;  I lifted him up, and he rewarded me by slapping me in the face. “Hurt,” I signed. “That makes me sad,” I said. He looked at me, then traced a finger down his cheek.

Not quite so sad as I had been before. That one had hit its mark!

Bedtime, however, was long, and I did feel a little sad. As Girl was finally winding down after worrying about hearing thunder (“That was just the sound of the wheels of Daddy’s truck on the gravel,” I assured her), her mind roamed as it so often does.

“What did Daddy have before his truck?” she asked.

He’s had his truck since 2007, I think, so any “before” is also pre-Girl. What makes her wonder such things?

“He had a green car, and he had a red car before that, and another car…but I don’t know what color that was.”


“We can ask him.”

She was silent for a little while, and then she made her final comment of the night before rolling over on her side to go to sleep: “I hope we all die together.”

For someone who has never thrown darts, her aim is impeccable – and darts are piercing. I gave her a kiss, but really, if I’d learned anything from my own lessons, it was time to trace my finger down my own cheek.








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.

Daddy, Baby Boy, and Uncles on the AT

Daddy, Baby Boy, and Uncles on the AT


Aunties, Preschool Girl, and Mama on the AT

Aunties, Preschool Girl, and Mama on the AT

My daughter has been beautiful since the day she was born, and I’ve never questioned that. My son has been beautiful since the day he was born, and I never questioned that, although I had to get over the shock of the fact that no, he was not my first-born all over again.

Beautiful, they were.

And nearly bald.

We marvel now, at ten and a half months, at how much hair the boy has, compared to how much hair the girl had at the same time. Really! In real life, it looks like more!

Benjamin crawling

About to get ready for bed!

Maggie Lu in crawling pose

Books! (Photo by Cortney Smith)

But we marvel at her hair now, too, how much there is, how we worried that it would never grow in. When did that happen?

It snuck up on us. Beneath the hair we could see, a new fringe would grow – like Snorkmaiden’s fringe. Beneath that new hair, more would grow. The new fringe would march across her face in rows, serious, intent, focused. It took its work seriously. Row after row marched, growing, like a child, from tiny to long. Now, we have a girl with a full head of hair. It’s still fine and silky, slipping out of ponytail holders and barrettes, but her scalp hides behind it like a plate beneath the bounty of Thanksgiving dinner.

Life with two children is like that, too. You look away for a minute – you read the news, you watch the Olympics in Sochi, you shower – and by the time you look back, there’s more, a bounty of childhood delight. You realize that your son has six teeth (at least!) in, that he knows to turn around and back off of the bed and can stand on his own for a long time, that he has, for more than a month, been making the sounds “Mamama” and, for weeks, “Dadada,” and that he can mimic all sorts of mouth sounds. He has been clapping for a week. You notice that, just the other day, your daughter first said the letter “f” in a way that someone outside of the house would understand. That her imagination has kept Diego, Baby Jaguar, and Alicia as her nearly-constant companions. That in spite of so many changes, she still loves to sit on the floor to look at new books, legs stretched straight in front of her, back straight (but now, a little curved, an early hint of the teenager slouch, perhaps?), intent and focused, eyes marching across the pages.  She showed the same intensity yesterday at her first play, Go, Dog. Go! Baby Boy cried at each startling noise, so we spent much of our time in the lobby. Not her, though. She sat with Daddy, rapt. Afterwards, she spoke to several of the “dogs” and hugged some of their legs, too, ever the social creature. In the lobby, our son, a social boy himself, sat and waved at passersby, and one couple, to his delight, even came over to greet him in return, practicing, they told me, for when they would become grandparents themselves in the fall. In the path of the shining sun, his hair was aglow.

Beautiful hair, growing straight down a girl’s back or in a whorl around a boy’s head. What else will sneak up on us, will seem to be on the fringe before popping into full view?