Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Don't say too many words

December 2008

John is about to turn four. He rather abruptly begins to speak, uttering urgent things like "COO - KIEE!" and for the first time copying phrases like "goofing around."

December 2009

The children have two homes now. They live with Mommy and visit Daddy and there are special needs difficulties that I can't begin to write about without consulting with a lawyer.

It is the first December in their lives that I do not make any traditional cookies, but also the first time in their lives they are in a home with a Christmas tree. Sister joyfully goes with friends to pick out the tree, and John hangs a few ornaments when decorating begins.

It is December, and we love "The Christmas Song." For the past three years I sang it as a seasonal lullaby. It comforted John as only a few other songs can. There were times when he would have a small meltdown, after school, in a store, or at home, and I would hold him tight and whisper, "Do you want me to sing Chestnuts Roasting?" and if he agreed, I would sing it quietly and he would settle. This year for December we've added something to our bedtime routine: at the very end, Sister sings "The Christmas Song," then I sing it again, and then the kids go to sleep. I tell them we'll only continue this until New Year's Day.

January 1, 2010

John will turn 5 tomorrow.

I am just walking out of the other room. The kids have been playing happily in the living room. Big Sister almost collides with me in the hallway, exclaiming, "Mommy, guess what John just did, guess what he did?"

I can't tell if what he just did is going to be something happy or icky.

"What did he do?"

"He just sang Chestnuts Roasting, the whole thing!"

- silence as my eyes grow very wide -

"Um, ask him if he wants to sing it again, and I'll stand here quietly."

"Okay!" She runs back to the living room. "John, can you sing Chestnuts Roasting again?"

"Okay! SHEFF....NUSS RRRRROASTING onanopenfire! JA FROSST nippingatyo NOZE!" No melody, but rhythmic accuracy and perfect memory of all the lyrics. And dramatic gesturing. The gesturing is partly his usual involuntary movements, yes, but partly exuberance at being in a big wide room with a big train track full of Thomas trains and no one in the world to stop him from yelling out this beloved song. He sings the whole thing.

He will turn 5 tomorrow. He has been speaking for one year, and he knows every word of "The Christmas Song."

January 2, 2010

Three sweet and helpful little girls help me make John's birthday cake in the morning while John plays with new, birthday Thomas trains.

Instead of stopping on New Year's Day, we invited Sister to sing the song again last night and tonight.

January 3, 2010

John can talk. It's been a year.

Each early morning, I snuggle and/or wrestle with John. He likes to put our faces close together. Then discussions about parts of the face ensue, and perpetual questions like "Can I pick your mole, Mommy?"

When he gained words, he didn't lose the ability of his hands and heart and face to speak. He is a physically present communicator. And he didn't lose the strength of his voice, distinct when he is weak and absolutely robust when he is gleeful or angry.

"What's dat?" John presses his fingertip into my cheekbone.

"That's my eye-bone."

"What's dat?" with sparkling eyes and a grin.

"That's my nose."

He puts his finger just at my nostril and plots. "Are dere any boogers in your nose?"

"Um, I don't think there are any that you could reach." [remaining booger conversation edited out]

"What's dat?"

"That's my chin."

"Don't say dat word!"

"Don't say that? Okay."

"Don't say too many words, you kids!" booms John, and we both collapse into giggles, me because I don't know where he came up with that phrase and him, maybe for the satisfaction of having been so successfully funny.

So that's John's advice. Don't say too many words. He himself says just enough. More than a year after I stopped being able to predict or hope the specifics of his future communication, John became able to declare, to limit, to contradict, to request, to object. Sometimes when he repeats a desire too many times and I say, "I said no" he points out, "But I said YES!" 

He became able to wonder, to ignore, to pester, to call attention to. He achieved communication basics that some adults who can speak perfectly, have not yet achieved.

He became, in these things, so vigorously able.

Happy birthday, John. You are an inspiration.


  1. Happy Birthday John. May this year bring you many more new discoveries and beautiful moments to share.


  2. here's to another great year, may you all contimue to grow and flourish.

  3. Wonderful. When our kids get the gift of speech after such a long road, it's a gift for everyone. I hope you're able to video him singing his song, so he can appreciate it when he's older too. And to remind you, on the dark days we all have, that progress IS being made.
    Happy Birthday, John.

  4. What a beautiful story -- my heart just burst when your daughter told you he was singing Chestnuts Roasting.
    My son is unable to speak, so I know what those words mean.
    Enjoy!!! Louise

  5. Bless you. Hearing their voices for the first time is indeed miraculous. I know. We've been there.
    The absolute best for you and your family in 2010.

  6. Yes, indeed, John (and you) is an inspiration. My son just turned six in December and finally said "Mama" and "Papa" for the first time ever. He doesn't have other words yet but he seems to have so much to "say." I hold hope in my heart that, one day, I will hear his sweet little voice asking me "What's that?" or anything else.
    Meanwhile, we are working on getting him a speech device to help hiim communicate his worldly thoughts. lol

  7. This put such a smile on my face this morning. He reminds me of my 4 yr old, that can say words he just has a hard time finding the right ones. Happy Birthday to John :)

  8. what a wonderful love letter
    save this for him, won't you?