The Way it Used to be. And Now: Part II

Playing peek-a-boo with the animals at The Natural History Museum

The day Archer turned two and a half he said his name for the very first time. Ah-tu, he said because he can't pronounce his r's very well. And a week later, when I put him down to bed, he stood up in his crib and said "Nigh, nigh Mommy." I hadn't prompted him. He had said it on his own. Instead of blowing me the usual kiss and waving he spoke to me. In English.

"I love you, bug," I said back to him, trying to mask my shock at hearing him speak like that, all on his own.

"Ay yuv you gug," he said, waving his little hand between the bars of his crib, crashing face-first into his red blankie.

I cried afterwards. For no other reason besides the fact that it was literally the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. Because I had sort of, in my head, wondered if he would ever say "mommy" or his own name, let alone "I love you." I guess I sort of figured it would happen eventually but I wondered, still.

I had watched him watch the world with such interest for so long. Watching him make friends. Watching him watch me, listen to me, understand my questions. Listening in such a real way it was almost heartbreaking. Waiting for him to answer back. To communicate about a world he was obviously so interested in, sensitive to, understanding of. Like a quiet wise-man. A miniature sage.


Archer, watching the world as he does so well.

The only feeling comparable to my waiting for Archer to speak on his own was the feeling I had when I was traveling by train around the lesser-known parts of Italy and France my very first summer traveling alone. Waiting for trains to come. Trusting they would find me all alone in the middle of nowhere. Trusting that I was at the right stop, on the right side of the tracks. "Come on, come on," I'd think. "Be here already."

The train will come, mom. Just be patient.

Trusting that the train would eventually come and pick me up, I was at peace most of the time. But there were days, there have been days for the last year or so, when I was afraid. Afraid the train had broken down. That there was nothing I could do to get it going. Nothing I could say. I couldn't talk the train into coming. Or Archer into speaking: it was out of my control. He was out of my control. A valuable lesson and one hard to digest by someone with such undeniable control-issues.

With Archer it was hard to believe he would ever really speak to me. It was hard to believe we would ever be able to communicate without our hands. We had both adapted to his lack of communication in such a way that there was never a time when I didn't know what Archer was talking about. I knew when he was hungry, or sad or sick. I knew when he wanted me to turn up the music or dance with him. I knew when he wanted me to scratch his back. When he wanted to go outside. When he wanted me to cut his apple into smaller bits.

I waited for months to hear him speak. "He'll probably talk any minute," people said to me. "Complete sentences, even." But that wasn't the case. And then a year passed and pretty soon I stopped waiting. There was plenty to do at the station, I soon realized, and one day I just forgot the train entirely. Forgot what I was even even waiting for. Where I wanted to go.

There is something so poetic about waiting so long for Archer to reveal the part of himself that I have never been able to hide. Like an odd couple who could not be more perfect for one another... Me who can't shut up. Who has put so much emphasis on words. On communication. On language and all that it means it express it and a son who can only express himself in wordless ways: kissing flowers he likes best in the garden, giving strangers cookies instead of saying hello, pointing at the birds and clapping. Always clapping.

Playing with pigeons

These days, and especially as a first-time parent, so much depends on developmental milestones: our road map to where we need to go, how and when we should guide our children, when the time is right to buckle them in and pull away, towards the road. Or school. Or class. Or special-needs therapy. So when our children aren't walking or talking or doing what their peers have been doing for so long. For what seems like ever. It's hard not to stall in the driveway. It's hard to put the map away, focus on the child: his unique identity, like a snowflake to protect, understand, memorize before it falls into a winter of packed snow...

I don't know that I see Archer differently now that he is really starting to communicate. Not sure I ever will. That's what's so amazing about being a parent: our children will always be geniuses because every little thing they do has the power to greatly change our lives, make us better people, more patient and accepting and understanding.

Parenting is a journey no matter what. Even when the train is late. Especially when the train is late, in my case. Because there's so much to think about while sitting at the station. So very much to learn in the silence before the engine sounds.


Toot, toot!

GGC

32 comments:

Anonymous | 12:54 AM

Rebecca! You wear that RED dress non stop! Get a new freaking dress already! Are you that broke waiting on a payout from your book?

xo malita

liina | 2:09 AM

My boy's a few months older than Archer and is also just now starting to talk... it's beautiful indeed when they finally do :)
And now a question - how does that boy of yours stay in a CRIB at this age???

laurenzo | 2:26 AM

i love your red dress, you gorgeous woman.

i have such a special place in my heart for you guys. ya'll occupy an entire chamber. i love you and i love him and i can't wait to see you again soon and hear his words. just as soon as my lung isn't all lame n' shit.

xoxoxo to the moon.

Rob | 4:48 AM

It probably doesn't take a genius of the subconscious to figure out why, but I really like this entry.

Fairly Odd Mother | 4:57 AM

If I looked like you, I'd never take that dress off!

It is SO hard when the little guys don't talk 'on schedule'. My just-over-3-year old is just starting to say short sentences and it has taken every ounce of my being to just trust that his speech will improve, is improving, albeit at a speed that I find a bit hard to handle.

Fraulein | 6:54 AM

Just beautiful. Nothing, nothing, nothing compares to the first time you hear them say "I love you."

Motherhood Uncensored | 7:24 AM

Aw, Bec. This one made me cry.

Your love for Archer is so rich and full. And you describe it so beautifully.

Heather, Queen of Shake-Shake | 8:35 AM

Yes, turning your back on those "developmental milestones", waiting and trusting that it will come at its own right time is definitely a different path. I live it too.

In fact, I live both parenting paths, typical and atypical. My two boys are night and day. Each one has it's joys and trials, but that atypical path, for me, is much deeper and higher.

Great post Rebecca!

Kendra | 9:27 AM

I've been there.
You're so eloquent!

clueless but hopeful mama | 9:44 AM

Lovely post. True and heartfelt. So many of us are there with you at the train station. Hoping, waiting, listening to the silence.

Don Mills Diva | 10:48 AM

This post made me tear up it was so beautifully written - it's really true that our children are the ones teaching us.

Emery Jo | 10:54 AM

This is so beautiful because it is exactlly what Ezra and I are experiencing right now.

Exactlly.

I think that snowflake metaphor will be burned in my memory forever and ever because it struck me so powerfully. I think it will help me very much in the days ahead. And now.

Jen | 1:57 PM

As Usual, your words hit me hard, girl!
What a Mommy you are! Archer's a lucky little dude!

Jennifer

kittenpie | 3:50 PM

Becca, I won't remeber by the end of the month, through all the holiday madness, to send you a perfect post for this, but trust me, right now, I know it deserves one. This was beautiful, inspiring, insightful, loving, and the perfect example of why you are the perfect mom for your boy, who is perfect as he is. I loved this.

Charlotte | 5:22 PM

Developmental milestones ... bleh! On the one hand, they're useless because kids develop at different speeds; on the other hand, they're indispensable when trying to figure out if something's not going as planned. It's a can't-live-with-them-can't-live-without-them thing.

Loved your post, as always. And Archer, he's such a sweet little boy!

Seemeforme | 6:08 PM

beautiful. I'm so happy for you and proud of Archer! Love you!

Anonymous | 8:28 PM

I think this is one of the reasons I love your blog so much. I'm more of the Archer type, not good with words, yet every time you post a blog, I find you've explained something in the words I could never find. Lovely post.

PS I love the red dress

LD | 8:33 PM

Beautifully put. Thank you.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD | 8:45 PM

It's my red dress and I'll wear it non-stop until the end of time if I want to.

xo rebecca

And to the rest of you, thank you.

Scar | 9:39 PM

i wish my red dress looked like that on me. I also wish I could play with archer. You guys have a package headed that way. :) xo.

mo-wo | 11:23 PM

kittenpie is right. the lovely image of your noise and his quiet is too strong. nigh-night.

thanks for this.

Badness Jones | 1:26 AM

Beautiful post GGC. And, yay Archer! I love the sound of my children's voices...

foodiemama | 8:43 AM

beautifully put! archer is one lucky dude.

Mommy Cracked | 9:08 AM

Such a beautiful post! And he is such a cutie!

Anonymous | 11:13 AM

Rebecca,

Long time reader...first ever comment! Your words are so poignant and deep. Your son is miraculous because he has transformed you and it seems, at the same time, completes you. Its all so powerful. Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with the world.

I treat myself to reading your blog in my car....right in the driveway...after work each day. You inspire me & I thank you.

Karen & Adam (18 months)

My name is Kate B. | 12:48 PM

Isn't it crazy how you can sometimes understand your child so completely, even without words? I am still waiting for the words but Ella and I communicate well even without them. I know it's kind of early yet for her to speak all that much, and I have the faith.

I was without internet for a month and I am so excited to go back and read everything you've written. Your writing, it is so lush, so full, so satisying.

Yay for you, and yay for Archer.

Best,
Kate B.

calamity | 8:02 PM

slut,
i told you he'd start talking to you as soon as you became interesting. you never listen to me.

miss you.

Jaelithe | 2:46 PM

Hearing your own child say "I love you" for the first time is the best feeling ever, ever, ever in the history of the universe. But you already know that :)

Mom101 | 8:11 PM

Aw Bec I could not be happier for you. Happy and relieved and just awed with how beautifully you can capture this in the face of such crushing emotion.

May that little guy of yours continue to surprise and delight you all of his years.

mothergoosemouse | 8:46 PM

What a perfect analogy. I stopped waiting for the train too.

And now - I think it's here. I think we're on it. I can't be sure. But we're still having fun, which is the part I really cared about all along anyway.

(I'm impressed that Archer calls himself "Archer". I can't get CJ to say CJ or Catherine - she always calls herself Mousie.)

the weirdgirl | 10:18 PM

Congrats, my dear.

Anonymous | 1:42 PM

Big cheer for Archer! I hear so much about this or that child being "on the spectrum." What does that mean, exactly? I can tell Archer is very bright from his photographs; he looks like he's taking everything in.
My nephew is four and his speech was delayed. He had to have his adenoids removed and he needed exercises for a combination of a high palate and weak tongue muscles. He's fine now but he used to have very few words and what he did say sounded garbled. His parents kept taking him to specialists until they found the answer.
-Salome