The Words We Were Waiting For

I’m pleased to report that Otto the Silent is silent no more. All of a sudden, as I was pretty sure would happen, he is suddenly fully aware of the power of speech. He no longer turns his head and ignores me (seriously!) if I ask him to say something. Nor does he slam his head down into his dinner plate and sit there motionless, so completely disgusted with my suggestion that he use his words. No, all of a sudden he has learned that trying even just a little bit, even if the result sounds absolutely nothing like the word we were going for, just trying to make a word results in shrieks and whoops and claps and ketchup. More on the condiment in a moment. What matters is that he has finally tapped into what separates us from the monkeys and wants to try.

Frankly, it was a long time coming and the complete lack of interest was what mostly bothered me. I mean, given a chance between silence and talking, you all know what I’ll choose, right? Anyway, as you know, we turned to sign language last Fall, desperate to make sense of his gibbon shrieks and obvious frustration. But aside from a few signs and a couple of very clear words (Elmo!), we have had very little progress over the last few months. Well, that’s not entirely true. Over Christmas he took to calling me “Lara” which made everyone giggle hysterically. Except me obviously. If he wants to call me by name, he can at least add “Dr,” don’t you think? Where’s the respect? Anyway, that didn’t last long and since then we’ve been pretty much stagnating in a vocabulary wasteland.

As I’ve said, given his prematurity, the fact that he is learning two languages and clearly understands both, his gender and his position in the Eva-Zoe-Otto pecking order, I wasn’t that concerned. More annoyed, if we’re to tell the truth. I mean, I know the sign for “drink,” but water or milk? And if I get it wrong, don’t throw your cup at my head, you know what I’m saying?

But all of a sudden, it seems to have clicked. We’ve been averaging a new word every 1-2 days and the joy on his little face when he realizes the power of is speech is so fun. Unfortunately, he also seems to really understand the power. As is evident if you look at our list of new words. Please don’t judge my parenting. Focus on the topic: Otto’s perspective on language.

  • “Ketchup” comes out like “up up” but that doesn’t matter because Mommy squeals and claps and squirts more on my plate! Over and over!
  • “Pizza” sounds like “izza” but I get another slice! There’s only broccoli left for you, Eva and Zoe. Suckers!
  • “Peppa” (as in the pig) gets Mommy to turn on the TV. Even though she hates this show more than any other and has no idea where I learned it. See the broccoli eaters, please. They go to school and have “outside influences.”

And there you have it. A selective list of new words that belies a view of my parenting that isn’t the most flattering. But let’s look beyond that, shall we? It doesn’t matter to me if “Say Zoe” is met with “Guh duh.” What matters is the joy on his face, the giggles and clapping that follow and the fact that he seems to have finally made this connection about the importance of speech. Perfect speech is not our goal. Trying is. Which means constant praise, encouragement and reward. And in this case that means ketchup and television. But again, let’s focus on the big picture, shall we?

The point is that we were well on our way to speech therapy and while we aren’t out of the woods, I’m feeling a whole lot more optimistic. He turns 2 in May and by then should have a quickly growing vocabulary and start putting words together. Two weeks ago we weren’t anywhere close to that but today I have just a little more hope. I just wanted to share that with you in case you were worrying about your little one’s speech. Or the amount of ketchup he eats. Or how much TV is too much. Even if the story gives away more about what happens at Dr. Zibners’ house at dinnertime than I probably wanted you to know. Parenting is about prioritizing. Their needs before yours. Words before ketchup limits. Right?