I've been closely monitoring The Caterpillar's verbal skills the last eight moths or so. While The Dormouse started calling me a cracker at seven months and using complete sentences by eight, The Caterpillar has been decidedly less interested in the form of communication known as Verbal, preferring instead, to shriek, moan or just use her demon voice.

While I learned my lesson about encouraging The Dormouse to talk (once she started, she never quit, live with
that for awhile and see how you like it), I did start to get a little concerned when The Caterpillar hit twelve months and still did not use anything remotely resembling civilized communication. I made the mistake of mentioning this to one or two people who all pooh-pooh'ed the idea that her language might be delayed in any way and told me I was being silly. Told me second children learn to talk later. Told me any number of other made up statistics and bogus old wives tales and said I was overly concerned and irrational.
I'm not going to say I was worried, that's not the right word. Let's just call it aware. I knew that some kids talk later. I'm fully aware of the fact that two children won't have exactly the same developmental milestone time line. And I wasn't trying to put the my own expectations on The Caterpillar, in fact just the opposite. But here's the thing: as a parent, you have to be concerned about that stuff. They way I looked at it was this: even if nothing is wrong a little extra intervention definitely won't hurt and if something is wrong, it might make a huge, giant, cavernous difference. I'm painfully aware that she's "only one" like so many people reminded me. And if I wasn't aware, the constant wiping of her butt and getting up in the middle of the night should have been a vivid, stark reminder. I just wanted to be on top of it. Better people than me have written about it:

Whenever I write stuff like this I invariably get comments reminding me that "he's ONLY three!" like I need a refresher course on my kid's age, or like I'm expecting him to be mapping the human genome as opposed to sitting on the stupid blue carpet at preschool. I used to get the same comments when he was "ONLY two!" Does anyone know at what age people stop hassling you for trying to be proactive about your child's developmental and educational issues, or for taking advantage of early childhood programs that EXIST FOR A REASON? When he's ONLY four? Seven? When he's dropped out and knocking over convenience stores at ONLY 16?

Frankly, even without the possibility of a speech delay, the screaming was getting to me. I needed a form of communication and I needed it now. So I was patient and we worked with her and we watched and waited and finally a respite came: she started picking up on some signs. GLORY HOLLY EULA, as The Dormouse says. We finally had a way to communicate! That made life easy enough that that nagging concern in the back of my head went away for awhile because she was finally getting the hang of communication. In other words: using a symbol to express a thought in whatever form that symbol took. The Gestalt light bulb came on over her head and once she figured out, "Hey, I can tell people what I want and I can avoid all that pesky screaming and kicking my feet and then after all that still getting a green bean instead of the banana I wanted in the first place," more and more signs came. Then shortly after that, words. Or at least the baby speak equivalent of words:

  • no (as in "Give me a kiss" "NOOOOooooo!" *runs screaming from the room*)
  • no (as in "What's this in the middle of your face?" "No")
  • tow = toes
  • upa = open
  • dow = down (or maybe "Dow Jones Industrial Average," I can't be sure)
  • sigh = outside
  • bee-bee = baby
  • DA! = dog (never said without the emphasis; also accompanied by high pitched squeal and/or kicking of legs)
  • shoosh = shoes
  • joo = juice
  • pees = please
  • mmmm = milk
  • wa-wa = water
  • ba-ba = bottle

Can I just say here how much it amuses me that the list above is full of such stereotypical baby words? The closest thing we got to a baby version of a word with The Dormouse was "bop" and "Je-Je," which she insisted was the real name of Jesus -- and that might just be his gang name on the streets, so I'm not sure it counts.
Today, The Caterpillar's got a vocabulary of about twenty "words" and thirty signs. I don't know where that falls on the developmental milestone chart and I'm not going to get worked up about that. I just want to make sure she's making progress. These days we're getting some occasional two word phrases and her speech is coming along nicely. It's still no where near what The Dormouse was at her age, but because I'm seeing progress, I'm less inclined to run down to the DSHS office and start yelling "I want my Early Intervention Services and I want 'em now!" I am, however, more likely to employ some of the therapy concepts that I picked up in college getting that $40,000 piece of paper that's hanging on my wall.
So the question I got the other day was, "See now? Don't you feel silly for worrying about it before?"

And I think I can reasonably answer, "Absolutely not. Not even for a minute."

First, because, as I said before, I wasn't worried, I was aware. There's a whole world of difference between wringing your hands and running in circles yelling 'The sky is falling' and keeping in mind to watch for something that might become important later. And second, because here's the thing: you're a parent. It's your
job to watch out for that kind of stuff. It's other people's job to say she's alright. If she did need some kind of intervention, I would have been able to start working on it right then rather than wait until she was sixteen and wonder why she was only saying "Uuunh, uuunh" when she wanted to borrow the car. I would have been ready to pounce like an alley cat on a half full can of tuna the minute she was eligible for any extra help from the educational system and with no time wasted. I knew that it was possible, probable in fact, that she was fine and developing exactly as she should (and, incidentally, how her sister developed is not necessarily how she should). But I chose to keep a healthy sense of urgency along with a healthy sense of restraint. Do I regret that? Not on your life. Will I change that approach now that she's saying a few words? Sorry, no.
She's still not to the point of saying words correctly, the way they're meant to be said in the King's English. Very few words have endings on them and she needs to be prompted to put two words together most days. When she's tired, she will resort to her Beaker-like, "Mi mi mi mi mi"* moaning when she's upset or simply screeching in ultrasonic frequencies when she wants something and you're not getting what it is. (The neighbor's dog loves that. I consider it payback for the weeks on end of barking at falling leaves.) But yesterday, I got a honest-to-goodness, real life, purposeful, put-the-beginning-and-the-ending-on-it word from her.

I'm puttering around in the kitchen, making some dinner for
the girls.

She enters the kitchen and stands, horse stance, in the doorway. "Mommm-mommmm-mommm?"

"What's up baby?"

She stares wide-eyed back at me, then her face goes red, every muscle in her body tightens and she grunts, then relaxes and raises her index fing
er in the air and says, plain as day:


Ah... the words every mother wants to hear.

*when I found this video The Caterpillar was in the room and began squealing and dancing around while singing "Mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi mi" along with the song. Egad, I've created a monster.