Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The other morning I awoke to hear WonderBaby chortling in her crib. I lay, listening, letting the sweet sound fill the room and herald the morning, the warble of our very own songbird.

And then I realized that she wasn’t warbling, or chortling or chirping or babbling. As I lay there, listening through the cottony muffs of sleepiness in my ears, her sounds started to take shape. She was calling. She was calling a name.




Daddy. Daddy, who usually rises and plucks her, giggling, from her crib each morning, was still sleeping, deeply. So I rose and went to her room.



I picked her up and drew her to me and toted her back to our room, to our bed, to Daaah-y, who sat up and sang her name back to her and we fell upon him and tangled ourselves into the blankets and we whispered each other’s names, over and over and over again…

WonderBaby has been fumbling toward speech for some time, and she fumbles still. But it is nonetheless exciting – it is immeasurably exciting – to hear her efforts in such moments, when the word bursts forward with delicious force, when she realizes that she has made herself understood, or when, as with her Daddy-Morning-Song, she plays with the words and gives them rhythm, makes them her own. They’re rudimentary, these words, but they are, still, words; she hesitates, stumbles, drops consonants, but still they come, the words… hi, bye, cah (cat), Daah-y, Ma, all-oh (hello)…

Sometimes, very rarely, the words come with surprising clarity and self-assurance – a ‘hello’ comes out clear as a bell, or a prompted ‘thank you’ bursts forth as a confident tank oo – and I am stunned, speechless. Did she really say that? Did she really speak so clearly? I goggle at her, and she smiles back, and I whisper, urgently, say it again, and she gurgles and giggles and babbles, keeping her words a secret. In these moments, I am convinced that her power of speech is already fully formed but withheld from me, guarded as a secret power, one that she holds in reserve, saving it for moments of maximum impact. I am convinced, in these moments, that one day, I will ask her, rhetorically, what do you have to say today, sweet baby, and she will look me in the eye and solemnly reply, hermeneutics.

The ancient Greek word logos means both reason and speech. Human beings reason through speech, they make meaning through words, use words to give form to meaning, to share meaning. Watching a baby begin to form words, to experiment with speech, to move from the rudimentary attachment of sounds to things – hoot! = ball, hoot! = cat – to a manipulation of sound for the purposes of making simple meaning – Ma! Da! Ba! – to the manipulation of sounds for the purposes of commanding meaning, playing with meaning – Da to Daah-y to Daaah-y DAAAH-Y Daaah-y sung in repetition as a playful, plaintive, lyrical command.

Watching her, listening to her, hearing her voice begin to take shape, hearing her give voice to the meaning that she is making of this strange, wonderful world, my heart pounds with love and pride and panic. For months, now, a year, I have been her voice, I have made voices for her, I have fabricated meaning on her behalf and wrapped it in my own sounds (these sounds, according to my husband, approximating closely the sound of the South Park character Cartman, perhaps made more feminine.) Now, she is beginning to make her own meaning, and to give that meaning shape with her own sound. Her own voice.

Her own, sweet voice.


Blogger Baby in the City said...

Dude, you totally sound like a girly Cartman. That is too funny. Although, now that I think about it a little, sometimes a girly Timmy as well.

That must have been very exciting. The Boy is babbling a lot these days, sometimes for hours at a time - or so it seems. And all he says is dadde dadde dadde over and over. I wait for the mamamamamamamamama to come or even a tatata... I'll take whatever I can get!

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. I have to admit, it's been hard to wait for CJ to talk intelligibly, considering how high Tacy set the bar of my expectations. But it's finally starting, and my heart swells each time she puts her hand on my cheek and plainly says, "Mommy?"

1:58 PM  
Blogger Mad said...

Yes, yes. That most magical of times. Language time. And then they start talking and you realize they understood you all along, that they knew much more than you could ever have imagined giving them credit for given that you still think it a miracle they are eating and sitting upright. And then you realize the pace at which they learn and understand and can say it all back to you. Magic, magic, magic.

The other night my husband and I discussed how we should no longer discuss our daughter in her presence. She has ceased to be the object of our conversations and now needs to be the third party in them. Oh my!

2:07 PM  
Blogger Mayberry said...

I love, love, love this party of toddlerhood. Everything from "Allah yoo" to "potty? nakey?" is so wonderful. It makes up for a lot of the... crazier antics.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Your post is so beautfiul. My son is just starting to express himself vocally, too, and the other day, said "cah (cat)", too when I pointed to the cat and said her name. It's so cool. It's such a great age! I forgot all about this magical time with my first.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Oh how I loved the words with Nata, it seemed to take forever. 12-18 months was my favorite age. Everything is so fun for them and you can literally watch them learn everyday.

Enjoy this time, becuase they grow up way to quickly.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh man... the floodgates are open now.

It's fun now. If it wasn't fun before...

2:20 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

What a nice way of looking at her language development. Her own voice.

That she will have, I have no doubt.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The power of language becomes addictingly trancendent, HBM. My daughter is now 24 months old and I'm constantly amazed at observing her speech develop. I rush home early from work every day just so I can speak to her. It really is the greatest.

2:45 PM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

Oh, that is my favourite thing, watching that language developing. It's so amazing. I am still frequently agog at the fully formed little adult sentences that come so clearly from pumpkinpie's lips, in her sweet piping little voice. She makes me laugh soemtimes with the absurdity of it.

It does mean thatloss of control you talk about though, because they use that voice and those words to not only charm, but also to make their wants and needs and opinions known more than ever!

2:47 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Speech is a lot like walking, in the sense that you agonize and angst when they're not doing it, you spend every day of their infancy waiting for it, you get all excited when they finally start... and then after several months you wish they would just stop, just for a minute, please for the love of God can we have some quiet over here?

But you just keep on loving them anyway, because you just can't help it.

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember just before the Pie's birthday, hubby and I were saying to each other, "Can you believe she's actually going to start talking soon?" And then - the deluge. It's amazing how rapidly that trickle of words becomes a torrent. One minute she's struggling to say "Mama" and seconds - seconds! - later she's saying, "Mama sit down! Cookie? Okay!"

3:08 PM  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...

When Ada first started speaking I felt I could actually see the gears turning. It was more than just getting a few words, it was the realization that wow, things have names. That's kind of a big deal. Sounds like you are having fun with it.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're going through this right now too. I am fascinated every day with her capacity for learning new things & by how much she already knows. The pride - it is burgeoning!

Yay babies!

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How totally awesome is this? Those first words are completely precious and I'm so glad you're sharing this wonder with us.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

I always find this first-words business uncanny, as unexpected and disturbing, in its way, as if the cat were to suddenly converse. Like ventriloquizing. 12 months no talking, then, suddenly, talking. The formerly mute suddenly have access to the world of spoken language. They can name you -- look you in the eye and name you. Gives me shivers. I remember when my nephew first said my name--he actually calls me Mimi--like it happened yesterday. And he's 11 years old. Eerie and beautiful and awe-some.

8:58 PM  
Blogger liz said...

What a beautiful post.
This past weekend, amidst The Great Stomach Virus of 2006, Henry--covered in vomit and diarrhea--looked at Kris and said very clearly "Daadda."
It's incredible, and I look forward to watching Henry grasp speech in the manner of WonderBaby.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

It's so exciting! I am shocked by every new word, and sentences stop me in my tracks! The latest is "Don't want to!". People are always telling me I'll regret wishing he could speak. I don't at all. He may have a contrary opinion, but at least I know what I'm dealing with. It's a starting point for negotiations, you know what I mean?

11:25 AM  
Blogger Sandra said...

I don't know if I am just feeling sucky about missing the party but really that was one of my favourite posts about a mother's child ever. So lovely. Language aquisition is such a wonderful time and it sounds like you are enjoying every minute !

12:15 PM  
Blogger Granny said...

No matter how many times I've heard that first actual word or two, it's always brand new.

I had one who waited so long we were thinking of a speech therapist and then suddenly burst out in complete, carefully enunciated sentences. Another that started very early but was almost three before we understood a word.

I'm so far behind on reading these days. One comments fits all your posts I've missed.

I voted for you but only once. Found a couple of my other friends over there as well.

Very belated Happy Birthday to Wonderbaby.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I'm actually not all that concerned about WB talking back - she talks back loud and clear even without full command of language. The promise of language, for me, is that I can least make the pretense of reasoning with her...

(yes, I hear all you more experienced mothers out there laughing...)

12:47 PM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

That was beautiful.
I love speech. It amazed me to hear my son's first words, and as he grows it amazes me how he just keeps picking things up.
The most heartwarming thing ever was when I got him from daycare the other day and he said "I love you mommy."
Words are magic.
When Matt first started talking people kept saying "oh you'll wish he'd never started."
I could definitely do without the temper tantrums, but the language - I love it. I finally feel like I can communicate with my child. And I feel like he understands me back - even if he doesn't always listen. I know he gets it.
Enjoy! What a wonderful wonderful time.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Radioactive Tori said...

All 4 of my kids started talking really early and really clearly. It is completely amazing to hear what they are thinking about, and even more so when they are young and still figuring out what the world is all about. I loved it, and even now that they talk back a bit I still love hearing what they are thinking.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

isn't it the greatest thing, ever...and it just keeps getting better. words, language, communication...growth and relationship.

i love all of it.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Oh, how special. And BTW, you take the best candid shots of your kid. I love the Kermit.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

It is so very amazing, this speech. Today The Poo said to me, so clearly, "I don't LIKE nuts, Mama!" Which was extra funny because she has never actually eaten a nut.

Anyway, you captured the way I feel about this beautifully, as always. It is the most lovely of all developmental milestones.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

And in just a short time, she will be as articulate as her talented mama! It's amazing how the words come together.

We're getting the occasional sentence now, but even cooler is when Q creates an original phrase. He was waiting for the bath water to heat up, putting his hand under the water. When it was warm, he said, "Big hot!" to say it was ready.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Crunchy Carpets said...

It does melt your heart....that little voice.

Now mine just yells 'MOOOOM' 'BUM WET!!!" "MOOOOM! Dora Bum Wet!!'

Yeah good morning to you too

5:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am constantly in awe over my 2 1/2-year-old's communication. Of course, it came at a cost. Initially the "mama" and "papa" calls were endearing. Until they came with demands and expectations to satisfy her NOW.

With our baby boy, I'm now trying to coax him to say "papa" first and my hubs is doing "mama." My, how things change the second time around...

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this post because that's how Dawson says "Daddy". He somehow leaves out the double d's...and it's so darn cute! I can only imagine how sweet WonderBaby sounds! Music to the ears!

7:58 PM  
Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

This is such a sweet post. My youngest is just finding his voice too and it amazes me and makes me all nostalgic and sad at the same time.

Your little girl is adorable!

8:50 PM  
Blogger Kelly Wolfe said...

That is absolutely fantastic news and beautifully written. You really made me remember when my son first said words, it was that same magical feeling for me. Enjoy your little chatterbox. It is such a wonder to see a human develop from scratch.


10:17 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Congratulations on making it to round 2 of the Canadian Blog Awards in the "Best Family Blog" category!

11:13 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

I love the words that Monkeygirl says - especially the ones that she says when imagining her conversations between her toys. With a lion clutched in one hand and a monkey in the other, she creates these long conversations between the two. All inflection. And soooo sweet.

And in addition to the words, just hearing her voice - the actual sound of her voice - it warms my little heart. I get choked up thinking that the girl is growing up too fast!

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so wonderful when they start to talk. I've told The Happy Boy he doesn't need to cry in the morning to be heard, just to call for me.

Don't know if it's good or bad!

This morning I was woken up to calls of "mummy...mummy...MUMmeeee..."

I dragged my sleep deprived butt into his room, and got a hug. WOrth it!!

10:08 AM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Aren't these the sweetest sounds in the world!

11:24 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

I wish I would have thought to write down my feelings about things when my children were babies....your post is beautiful and really made me homesick for the days of discovery with my own.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's so freaking cool when they figure things out - how connections are made in their brains, and voila! There it is! Not only words, but associations with them and an understanding of what they can bring.

(P.S. May not come by for a while, am suffering from baby fever, pics of wonderbaby don't help it subside. Opposite effect, really.)

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read Knufflebunny? You should.

6:21 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

er that was me with the book recommendation, hey?

6:27 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

I can hardly wait to hear her command you loudly, from across a large playground to COME HERE MUMMY!!!!!

Listening to them find their voices is one of the most thrilling moments for a parent. Enjoy...

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the blog awards page and as I scanned down the page I found nothing I voted for had made it. No, beanie baby, no unrepentant hippy...Then I found you! Best Family Blog one of top five. You made my day! I will be back on the 25th.

2:42 AM  
Blogger janjan0000 said...

And then comes the day when you wish they'd just shut the hell up.
LOL .... kidding.
I still have little cassette tapes saved of daughter's first little forays into finding her voice. Gives me the baby blues something fierce.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, how amazing! I so look forward to those times, even if it does mean he has to grow up.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is so beautiful it makes me hurt. I treasure every little word my toddler says, and it is so amazing to hear those little words come out... possibly more so since we've had to wait a little longer than most.

Thanks for sharing as Wonderbaby learns to find her voice!

9:48 PM  
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