I’ve been meaning to write a post forever about Sadie’s language skills. You might think that’s a potentially boring topic, but for a Mom who also has an Honours English degree, as well as a 12-year background in Early Childhood Education, watching this little person acquire language has been So Freaking Fun.
From the moment Ryan and I brought our little girl home from the hospital, we treated her sounds as important pieces of information.
If she cooed, we cooed. If she squealed, we squealed. If she made a sound like ‘na na na’, we said ‘na na na.’ She would make the sound, and we would look into her eyes and repeat it back. As she grew older and made more noises, we would switch it up a bit and add a different tone, or an additional sound at the end of what we were parroting back. She might say ‘doo doo da!’ And one of us would say ‘doo doo da-da!’
It got to the point where we were so subconsciously doing it that I might be driving with a friend, having a full-blown conversation about adult things, and Sadie would say something from the backseat.
Without skipping a beat, I would be like ‘oh my God, I can’t believe your husband said that, what an Idiot!! Baa baa boo boo!’
And the friend would be like ‘ummmm… what was that?’ And then I would have to explain our little parenting philosophy about treating Sadie’s communication as equally important and valuable, even if she couldn’t speak words yet.
We weren’t sure if our philosophy would have a noticeable outcome in the long run or not, but to be honest, we also did it because it was fun. How often do you as a grown adult get to say ‘Doo Doo Gah Gah?’
So- somewhere around 10 or 12 months and I can’t remember when it was cuz I’m really not great at remembering timelines, Sadie started saying things like ‘Mama’, ‘Dada’, etc. It was pretty cool, but we had been talking to her for so long it just felt like a natural transition- as in- not that super cool or exciting.
But- one day- and again I can’t remember if it was 12 or 14 or somewhere in between months, Sadie looked out her bedroom window and saw that her Dad’s truck was not in its parking spot out front.
She pointed to the space where his white work truck would normally be and said ‘Dada. Dada truck.’ And I said ‘Yup. Dada’s truck is gone.’ And she said ‘Dada truck. Gone.’ And I said ‘Yup. Dada went to work.’ And she said ‘Dada truck. Dada truck gone.’ And I said ‘Yup, Dada’s truck is gone. He had to go to work.’ And she said ‘Work. Dada work.’ And I said ‘Yup. Dada work. But he will be home on Friday.’ And she smiled, and we left her room and went about our day.
My heart was Bursting with excitement- my child and I had just had our first Conversation!!! Our first real words, with real concepts, and a true back and forth conversation. I had to laugh too, because of course Ryan Schofield’s first child’s first conversation would be about trucks! Hehe.
Anyhow- since then, I’ve noticed a lot of things. I’ve noticed how sad it makes me when a child under 5 years old in a shopping cart is trying to say something to their Mom, and their Mom is so busy looking for the right apple or trying to read their grocery list that the poor child who is SO Pumped to show their Mom the Biggest Pineapple They’ve Ever Seen just gets ignored.
You see that child trying So Hard to show their parent something neat and exciting, and their parent just doesn’t notice them. So then that child, who really just wanted their Mom to notice such a special pineapple, starts going ‘Mom, Mom, Mommy, Mom, Mama, Mom…’ Until finally the exasperated Mom snaps her attention to the child and says ‘WHaT?!! What do you WaNT?!!!’ And the child doesn’t even try to mention the pineapple at that point. It breaks my goddamn heart.
That is NOT to say I am not also sometimes that Mom- the Mom trying to fit in a phone call with my girlfriend while grocery shopping. The Mom trying to find the perfect apple. The Mom too busy to notice her child. I am Not a Saint, or a perfect Mom- by Any stretch. But I see how easy it is, if you’re tuning yourself into it, and you have been since day one, to just acknowledge your child’s voice and then go right back to fondling apples. ‘Oh Wow, Sadie- that IS a giant pineapple!’ And then boom. Your child has been heard, you’ve got some nice apples in your cart, and the day goes on.
When we put Sadie into dayhome at 14 months, she was the youngest child there. She loved it. She thrives in there, playing with so many older children. It’s a majority-girls mix, and the older girls love doting on her and involving her in their games. A little boy, one week younger than Sadie, joined the dayhome two months ago.
They’re basically the Exact same age, and yet his language skills are not at all where Sadie’s are. I’ve noticed that it’s a lot harder for him to have enjoyable relationships with the older children. He acts out physically when he doesn’t get the toy that he wanted, or an older child isn’t sharing their toy with him. When he first started there, he was biting, scratching and hitting the other kids.
And again- my heart broke for him. The poor little guy (when he wasn’t angry or lashing out physically) is such a sweet little person. He loves to give hugs and to climb onto laps and he’s almost always smiling. He just doesn’t have the Words to tell people what he needs.
I can’t Imagine if I was in my lunchroom at work, biting into my sandwich, and a coworker just walked in, snatched it out of my hands and started eating it.
But that’s essentially what’s happening every day for that little guy. He’s playing with a truck. An older kid wants it. They reach down and grab it away from him. The dayhome provider is helping another child with something, so doesn’t notice this transaction, and now the little guy is understandably pissed.
But he doesn’t have the words. He can’t say ‘no thank you’ yet. Or ‘that’s mine.’ Or ‘give that back.’ Or ‘wait your turn.’ So he bites their hand, and they drop the truck. If I was in his shoes, I’d bite people too!!
Anyhow- if you’re a parent reading this and your child is under 5, I hope you have an inkling of just how important language is to your child. And if your child is non-verbal, you likely know by now that language doesn’t have to have fully formed words to be amazing communication. I’ve worked with special needs kids who had no words recognizable in the dictionary, but you can bet I knew Exactly when that child was angry, or hungry, or sad.
In the Early Childhood world, these types of back and forth communication experiences are called ‘serve and return’ moments. The idea is that no matter how young the child is, your communication with them is a two-way street. Language with your child is like a volleyball game. They serve, you return. You serve, they return. And, like a volleyball game, once you get good at it, it’s Damn fun!
All this to say- I love words. I love my daughter. And I really, really love my daughter’s words.
This weekend- I couldn’t open a bag of something. Sadie saw me struggling with it and looked concerned. I said ‘Sadie, tell me you believe in me!’ And she said ‘I Believe in you, Mama!’ And then she put her little hand on mine, looked into my eyes, and said ‘All The Time.’ I. Melted.
And lastly, practicing language with your child can be Freaking Hilarious.
Yesterday, we went out to the backyard to see how much snow had melted over the course of the day. I said ‘the snow is almost all gone! The sun worked very hard today to melt all that snow!’ Sadie said ‘good job, Sun, you melted the snow.’
This morning, we were driving to dayhome. We turned a particular corner on the highway where the sun always shines right into our eyes. Sadie, squinting into the sun from her forward-facing seat in the back, yelled ‘Mama! The sun is Melting my EYES!!!’ I was dying laughing. I passed her her little pink sunglasses and assured her they would keep her eyes from melting.
If you’ve read this far, thank you- I hope you’ve enjoyed this little piece. I don’t tend to get a lot of comments on my blog, but if You have a Favorite memory of some of your child’s first words- I would Love to hear it.