I’d like to buy a vowel, please.

My twenty-one month old son, Oliver, is beginning to talk. He’s been babbling for months, in construction that sounds like conversation spun from b’s and a’s. After communicating through only sign language and guessing games for so long, we finally get to hear Oliver answer our questions, ask some of his own, and try out new words. Often he drops letters at the front or end, switches letters for ones he prefers to use, or shortens sentences to a word or two so that it’s up to us to fill in the blanks.

I can’t begin to understand how this even happens, that he acquires anything after knowing only “Mama” and “Dada” for almost two years. After us came “more.” Then “water.” Many words he picked up from his teachers at the school-in-a-house where he spends most of his day, or from us repeating them over and over to him. Some seem to come to him by magic, like “rhino” or “bamboo” (his first real word). And many more from the books we’ve been reading to him since before he could smile.

“Banana,” he learned from one of his favorite books, We Are In a Book! by Mo Willems starring Piggie, a pig, and Gerald, an elephant. Though it sounds more like “nana.”

“BURP! Excuse me!” he learned from Rawr! by Todd Doodler. The “BURP” he parodies using sound effect and “Excuse me!” sounds more like “Mewme!”

“Teeth,” he learned from The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss. “Teeth” sounds awfully similar to “please” and “cheese.”

He can recognize the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, O, P, and Z by sight. Four more words, and we may be able to trick him into spelling his own name.

Seeing my precious boy encounter language–what I’ve spent my entire life in the pursuit of perfecting and absorbing–and use it as his own turns a simple day into a great one. His version of English is sweet and lilting. His questions dare you to say no, with that ever cherished upward inflection that ought to be sold it sounds so good. Every new word he speaks is a reason to rewrite the dictionary and challenge our found pronunciations. Each mispronounced word is beautifully his and reminds me to be more forgiving–to everyone: him, myself, the drivers on the road.

He smiles when he says any word at all, whether it’s new to him or already part of his daily vernacular, and nods triumphantly when I’ve understood something he’s said and responded in kind. And he especially likes it when I repeat what he says, as if my acknowledgement gives it meaning, now that I too have said it.

The signing was fun, but it sure is nice to hear my son’s voice.


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