Standing by and watching a toddler learn to speak is one of the most heartwarming experiences I’ve ever had. Besides what I consider the added benefit of feeling pretty smart myself (he asks me the name of something and 9 times out of 10, I know it!), it is fascinating to see the workings of a young brain come alive with language. It seems, there we were just a few weeks ago, scooting along just fine with 50-or-so words to roulette through the day, and then, pop! — one day 50 became 500. And then some.
What has me standing on my head with it is not the adorable way the letters form or the pitch of his voice — in both cases, breathtaking — but rather, the idea that these are not only words to him, or even only concepts. Everything, rather, is alive. Everything, to him, seems to have a consciousness. I know this because things are treated as such.
Hundreds of times a day, we have a version of this conversation:
“This?” Orlis says, and points at something.
“That’s the moon” I say.
And then he pauses and moves his lips a little
and then says, “Moon. Moon. Hi moon!”
And then he waves.
(and then I cry.)
I see, with my mind’s eye, the way he naturally practices until he gets it. With the more difficult words he allows himself more repetitions until he gets it sounding good to his own ears. The beginner in me adores the vulnerability in this — the way kids let us watch them fumble and get up again, happy to have an audience for what we adults would consider some very embarrassing stumbles. But what really provokes the tears of joy for me is the glimpse I get into how he views the world: as one big, sentient place.
These days, when Orlis asks for more of something, our conversation goes like this:
He says, “more blackberries?”
I say, “sure, I’ll get you more blackberries.”
And I put a few more into his bowl.
And then he says, “thank you, blackberries!”
And, for now, I just can’t bring myself to correct him. ”Thank you, mama” would indeed feel so good to hear, and I know someday it will come and it will turn the faucets on all over again, but until then, I’m happy with things the way they are. I sense a deeper, wider consciousness in him — one that implies a bit of a beating pulse in everything he sees — from colored chalk to cauliflower — and for as long as that lasts, I don’t want to smash it. And truthfully, there’s also a part of me that feels he is actually bestowing the gratitude right where it belongs…to those conscious (to a greater or lesser degree) objects in everyday life that show up everywhere, all around us, all the time. As if to say, “thank you, blackberries, for existing. Thank you for your unrelenting beauty and texture. Thank you for being here this summer, and more specifically in my house! in this bowl! in my mouth!” When I stop and think about it, it’s the kind of reverence I aspire to have with each bite I take too; each word I utter; each ant I wave to.
Other parents love to remark about every cute behavior, “enjoy it now. It won’t last forever.” (Or every annoying behavior: “don’t worry…it won’t last forever.”) And, of course, I know Orlis won’t speak this way — greeting the squirrels and each colored crayon or thanking each piece of fruit he eats forever — likely he won’t still be doing it even a few weeks or days from now. But, today he offers his learning to me and to the world in just this way, this quaint and naively friendly way that captures my heart like almost nothing ever has. ”Moon…moon…hi moon!” And we wave. Oh, goodness, say it again.