Some kids go right for the heart with their first word. They tell you what you want to hear. “Mama.” “Dada.” They curry favor, work the room like a 16th Century Italian diplomat. My first word was “Dada.” I was building alliances.
Some kids are aesthetes with their first word. They’ve become fascinated with something, and want to tell you about it. Kristen’s first word was “light.” She would point it out everywhere. Now she does the same thing, only with a camera. Was her interest in photography born when she was an infant, struggling to say her first word? I hesitate to say yes, as I am sure there are some of you reading this whose first word was “poop” or “pee” or “decaf“ and I don’t want to break your spirit. But yes.
And then there are the tool builders, the paradigm shifters, the ones who figure out that you can get more ants out of the hollow log with a sharp stick than with your fat, hairy fingers. They are unsentimental and goal-driven.
They have a plan.
Cooper’s first word was “that.” It was such a boring first word that for weeks I refused to believe he was saying it. I would tell Kristen that it didn’t count. It was like saying “and” or “it” or “or.” But Cooper was not looking for excitement. He was looking for more blueberries.
“That,” he’d say, pointing at the bowl of blueberries on the table. “That,” he’d say, pointing at a particular stuffed animal in the window of a store. “That, that, that,” over and over, insistently. How could we say no? He was using his words.
In addition to using it as a one word Manifest Destiny, Cooper uses “that” the way you or I use Google. “That,” he’ll say, pointing to a map on the wall. “That’s a map,” I tell him. His eyes widen and he points again.
“That’s a map.”
This goes on for at least fifteen minutes until he finds something else to point at and we repeat the cycle all over again until one of us falls asleep. I like to think that he’s storing all of this information away; that one day he’s going to wake up, look around the room, and say “That’s a map, that’s a picture, bed, cat, books, fan, window, I GOT THIS.”
I was worried his second word was going to be “this,” but so far I think it’s “truck.” At least it sounds like “truck” when he says it as he’s looking at a truck. It also sounds like “duck” when he’s looking at a duck, “suck” when he’s looking at the Mets’ bullpen, and gibberish when he’s looking at anything else. But I’m going to go with “truck,” as it dovetails with his new fanatical obsession with trucks, the way he will only let me read to him if it’s a book about trucks, the way he goes into a crying fit if we are out for a walk and we haven’t seen a truck in two minutes.
These fits of truck withdrawal are heartbreaking. During last night’s walk, in an effort to stop the tears, I pointed to Mt. Beacon. “Mountains are like the trucks of the earth,” I said. I will admit that this makes no sense whatsoever, but it got Cooper to stop crying and stare at the mountain with wide, silent eyes.
And isn’t that the point of language anyway, no matter how many words we know? To bring us to a place of stillness and quiet, beyond all words, where no communication is necessary? At least until the next truck rolls by. Then it’s all pointed fingers and that word that sounds like “truck,” over and over, louder and louder, echoing off the mountains and into the sky above.
Brian PJ and Kristen Cronin live in Beacon with their three cats, and their son Cooper James Cronin. View more of their photos at www.flickr.com/teammoonshine.