I know this because every time I do any of the above activities, a small, clear voice informs me that it is so. Repeatedly. It’s a little bit like living in a commercial or movie where a toddler-sized Morgan Freeman informs an invisible audience of my every move, in two- to three-word sentences.
I duck into the bathroom, and the small, clear voice calls out to me from the dining room: “Mommy peeing.” I pour myself a cup of coffee and settle into a chair: “Mommy drinking coffee. Sitting.” I lift a spoonful of Cheerios to my mouth: “Mommy eating.” Pause. “Mommy eating ‘Ohs.’”
Long gone are the days when my son’s only vocalizations were charming goo-goo-gah-gahs, ear-piercing wails, or a sort-of humming buzz akin to a white-noise machine. The wee one has found words, and he’s not afraid to use them.
I’m still adjusting to this influx of language. Every day, new words burst forth from his mouth. Buffalo. Carpet. Window. Sweatshirt. Pillow. Some, like ‘porch’, I can trace to new, real-life experiences: He loves sitting on the porch of our new house. Others, like ‘planer’, he has gleaned from books we’ve read: A children’s German vocabulary book includes a page featuring tools in a workshop. Still others leave me scratching my head. How exactly did he learn the word ‘spoke’ for the spindles in a bicycle? (We don’t ride bikes.)
The words alone are probably enough to make a mother proud. My son is bright! Did you hear him talking about his cheese noodles? He can count to two! He knows where his elbow is! He knows the difference between a leopard (spots!) and a tiger (stripes!)! (Forgive me: mothers tend to think in explanation points (!!!) when bragging about their offspring.)
But, of course, there’s something more going on here. My son has a personality! He has his own thoughts and feelings! He is an actual, albeit miniature, person!
And there’s the real revelation. It’s not that I didn’t think of him as a person before he was able to share “Sun. Bright. Eyes.” with me when he was strapped into the car seat on a sunny day, but his needs and wants were mainly filtered through my interpretation of his needs and wants. He’d cry in the back seat, and I’d have to guess that his diaper was full, or his strap too tight, or — wait for it — that the sun was in his eyes.
But these days, he can provide me with a clearer glimpse into the workings of his mind. I’ve learned that he likes me to go fast when pushing his stroller and that he’s impatient with me for stopping the car for red lights. He doesn’t like wearing onesies underneath his jammies. He really, really, really likes corn, and only sometimes like peas.
His ability to express himself can be a double-edged sword. The wee one is cheerful by temperament, thank God, but we’ve had several epic meltdowns lately. He wanted to keep his “ball cap on” and I wanted to take it off. He wanted to eat “applesauce, Chex” for dinner, and I wanted him to eat chicken. He already knows that words have power and doesn’t understand why I would choose to disregard him when he’s expressed himself so emphatically. It’s worse, of course, when he doesn’t use his vocabulary. He is capable of telling me he doesn’t want to eat his pasta, but instead, he dumps the plate onto the floor. It’s probably best not to express the words running through my own mind at such a moment.
Sometimes his meaning is not quite so clear. It took me three days to figure out what he meant when he said “farmer’s ump.” I recently discovered the joys of listening to Pandora, an internet radio station which allows you to hit a ‘thumb’s up’ icon on the screen every time a song you like comes on. I’d hit the button on my iPhone, telling him what I was doing, and didn’t realize he’d taken the idea and ran with it. He said “farmer’s ump” to a horse in a book we were reading, “farmer’s ump” to me handing him a blanket in his crib, and “farmer’s ump” to getting yogurt, before I realized what he was really saying. He has since gotten a bit clearer in his pronunciation, but the accompanying gesture is still off. He keeps pointing his finger — like he’s firing a gun — instead of lifting up just his thumb.
I’m delighted to see him using words to engage with and interpret the world around him. I love how eager he is to tell me about his day, about “Ashley library” (his sitter taking him to the library), or “ball throwing” (we played with the soccer ball in the back yard) and “Mommy shopping” (we visited the grocery store). He even tells me about his dreams. Apparently, Grandma W – whose feet have never left the ground at the same time in my lifetime – likes to do a lot of jumping while the wee one naps. His imagination is at work when his eyes are open, too. The other day we made up a story together about Daddy flying a rocket ship to the moon, where he opened a restaurant and cooked for dinosaurs.
There’s no way for me to know if all these verbalized thoughts are ones he had in his head before or if they are part of a new awareness as his little brain gets bigger and more developed. It’s like watching a person waking up. Right now, it may just be him saying, “Mommy peeing,” but with time, his insights will become richer, and hopefully, more meaningful. With each new word, each new sentence, his personality comes into clearer focus. He becomes more him, as defined by him.