Language Fascination

Yesterday I embarked on my yearlong quest to battle the mountains of paper in my basement. By way of background, my mother never saved anything and lived a clutter-free life. I guess the clutter pendulum swung the other way with me, and now I am faced with boxes and boxes of memorabilia, pictures, children’s art and sweet lovenotes. It doesn’t help that my husband is also prone to save papers. In fact, we have all of our tax returns back to 1976. (That’s a little embarrassing.)

But that’s not the story I’m telling today. My youngest daughter, Jill, was born prematurely and had some developmental delays which we successfully addressed thanks to wonderful OT, PT, and Speech therapists. Their work converted me to early intervention. It was almost magical to watch how their expertise helped shape my daughter’s brain-body connection.

Our family stories now include many anecdotes of the “use and confuse” stage of Jill’s language development which re-ignited my fascination with language. I had remembered a few of these anecdotes, but yesterday while I sorted papers, I found one that I had forgotten.

One day, while Jill watched “Fantasia” (she LOVED that movie), she said, “Mom, come look at the fairy dragons!” Fairy dragons. What could she mean? When I went to check, there were dragonflies on the screen. Jill’s naming of things often involved word parts, but also a little creative twist that made it so interesting.

Another time, there were whirlybirds or helicopters from our maple tree stuck on the car window. Some were very tiny. Jill was in her car seat and said, “Mommy, I have pelicans, too!” After some thought, I realized she had put together the idea of bird in whirlybird with the word part “heli-” in helicopters and produced “pelican.” Our brains are so complex and full of wonder.

Once we had an evergreen bagworm cocoon stuck to the siding on our house. It was up high, almost to the eaves of the roof. It really bothered Jill. One day, when we pulled into the driveway, I parked and turned off the engine. Jill said, “Mommy, you really need to tell Daddy to get that kangaroo off of our house.” It was hard not to laugh, but I chuckled and told her I would and he did, eventually. All I could figure on that one was she remembered the /k/ sound started the word and it had the /oo/ sound, too. So it came out, “kangaroo.”

I love these little stories, especially now as Jill is a grown woman with three children of her own, because they remind me that having the open mind of a child can enrich our language and our experience of life itself. I love that she noticed the small things, that she trusted me to share them, and that her developing brain gave me a fresh look at the world around me. It was joy.