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My, My

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"My, I'm in a basket of animals by the window."

When Miles was a much less accomplished speaker than he is now, he called Robin “Momma” and me “My-My.”  This was back in the days when he communicated most of his thoughts through sign language, and he had developed distinct signs for each of us.  “My-my,” he’d call, pressing his thumb to his chin and rotating his hand back and forth urgently. 

It was a sweet little name, but it wasn’t “Mommy.”  I waited for “Mommy,” and when it came at last, it was bold, unmistakable, gorgeous.  It was a real word, commonly recognized in our culture as signifying a mother, and I loved it so much that I hardly noticed or mourned when he gradually abandoned the accompanying hand gesture.  Finally I was Mommy: a declared mom.

Now he’s a professional talker.  His speech can seem effortless, the way he breezily says “Thanks!” when I refill his cup, or how he ominously intones “Oh no!” when something doesn’t go his way.  Robin and I smile indulgently at his newest favorite phase, “Oh my goodness!”  And the other day he said, “Where is Miles?  I am next to the table where I can look out the window and see trees.”  Um, okay.  So you are.

So it was with great irritation this morning that I complained to a neighbor about how Miles has recently gotten lazy, calling me “My.”  My!  Just one lousy little syllable.  I gave him life, and all he can give me is one syllable?  (I know that my friends whose children have speech delays will not sympathize here, and I understand that this is not a real problem of any sort.  Some people wait years to hear their child say any version of “Mom.”  I get that I will never know how hard that is and that I am not even qualified to imagine it.  Consider this a frivolous complaint.)

Because I know my neighbor is studying language development, I described Miles’s linguistic lapse in detail.  It’s almost like two syllables the way he says it, like “Ma-ee” smushed together, like he’s just skipping the second set of Ms.  But seriously?  I shop for and prepare every one of his meals, meals he occasionally declines to eat, and then I wipe his gluey oatmeal or soggy, half-masticated quesadilla off of the floor.  After he digests that food, I wipe poop off of his butt.   And he won’t pronounce a lousy M sound? 

Occasionally I try to correct or cajole him.  It goes like this.

“Can you say ‘Mommy?'” “My.” “Mommy?” “My.”

Clearly he’s comfortable with calling me My, as comfortable as he is wearing diapers rather than using the big-kid potty.  Or alternately, as comfortable as he is proudly wearing undies and cheerfully whizzing right through them as he sits at the table munching on toast.  Toast that I personally toasted.  (And guess who cleans up the urine?)

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Pssst! I just peed.

 

To Miles, the syllable “My” is just a lovely, easy sound that summons one of his two favorite people on earth.  To me it’s a demotion. 

“Well,” said my neighbor, drawing on her coursework, “dropping the second consonant is actually very common.”  She launched into a bunch of impressive sounding technicalities about dropping the middle consonant between syllables with different vowel sounds.  When I complained that he used to say it properly, she was unmoved.

“It’s a sign of all the hard work he is doing right now with his speech,” she said.  “He’s working so much — doing so much invisible work — that he backslides in other areas, in skills he mastered a long time ago.”

Hmmmph.  I mumbled a grudging assent.

“He’s doing so much, Melissa,” she said urgently.  “As much as it looks like they’re just playing around or going ‘goo gah’ all the time, there’s work going on that we adults could never, ever do.”

Then Miles and I went upstairs.  I prepared a meal, listening to his bitter complaints as I did.

“I don’t want spicy rice!  No spicy rice!  I don’t want you to make it! Stop making it!  Just bunnies!”

“Miles, bunny crackers are not lunch.  Do you want some yogurt with your spicy rice?”

“Food yogurt, not drinkable yogurt.”

“Ok, food yogurt.  Raisins?”

“No raisins, My!  I WANT BUNNIES!”

Although Miles’s complaints showcased a new-found verbal agility, I was in no mood to celebrate.  He’s doing work, I thought?  Who’s the one making lunch here?  

I put the food in front of him,  “No rice!” he hollered, then picked up the spoon and ate the entire bowl.

After lunch, he began playing with trains and chattering to himself.  After awhile, I stopped scraping food off of the floor and tuned in.

“There was a monster.  It was a big monster.  And the train went through.  It was a big yellow one.  It was big!  The train is going in the tunnel!”

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Headed for the tunnel.

Here he crouched by his beloved trains, each with its name, and pulled them up to the door of a parking garage made of a cardboard box.  He had assembled a train out of nearly every train car he owns, each piece delicately joined to the next like words in a trembling sentence. 

“The tunnel is dark.  There was something inside! It was scary.  It is inside the dark scary tunnel.  The train will go in the yellow tunnel now not the green tunnel.” He struggled briefly.  “I need help for moving it.”

I waited, didn’t offer help, and he grunted, guiding the massive, serpentine train himself. 

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Going in the safe yellow tunnel.

“It is going, My, look! In the dark!”  He turned and smiled, knowing I would share in his celebration.

I did.

Goo gah, indeed.  I get it.  Okay?  I get it.  Keep on building those long trains of language, Miles.  My loves you.

 

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Chug, chug, chug. I think I can.

 

 

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