Posted by GIRL'S GONE CHILD | Thursday, December 06, 2007
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.
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."
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.
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.