23 February 2010

Talk A Little

For a long time, we were pretty sure that we had the next “That Guy From Police Academy Who Makes All the Sound Effect Noises” on our hands. For about the first year of Eamon’s life, he really preferred to communicate in sneezes, coughs, shrieks, giggles, grunts, or croaks. Occasionally he would utter or sing strings of random syllables, but he wasn’t at all interested in speaking.

Then, as chronicled in this blog, around one year old he instantly became interested in signing. Over night, he learned about 4 signs (most revolving around food or drink) and started using them constantly (though not always for the exact thing that he wanted; I attribute this more to not knowing what he wanted than not knowing what the signs meant).

About this time, he also figured out to shorten his strings of “mamamamamamamamama” to just “Mama” and decided that it specifically meant me. Grandma became “Nama.” No one else really got a name, though he would say “Mmmmm” when he was eating something he liked.

Then, about a couple of weeks ago, he discovered the joy of dropping things. Well, he’s always liked experimenting with gravity, but now he has a (sort of) word to go with it: “Uh oh.” Except that he can’t always get the syllables right, so it often comes out “Oh ah” or “Ah ah” or “Oh oh.” And always with a little rise in inflection towards the end, so it sounds like a question. It’s pretty darn adorable, and also useful, since he’s taken to saying it before he drops things so that you have time to catch them if you don’t want them on the ground.

The problem is, Eamon isn’t very good at speaking yet. This is understandable, since you know, he’s still kind of a baby. But he doesn’t understand why he can’t do it perfectly. There are times when he looks at me purposefully, opens his mouth, emits a syllable that apparently isn’t what he wanted, and then just closes his mouth and sighs. Like with walking, he wants to do it perfectly. If he can’t do it perfectly, he doesn’t want to do it.

The crazy thing is, he actually has said words when he wasn’t thinking about it. Twice now, he’s said his name, “Eamon,” completely correctly, in the correct context. It came out quickly, when he wasn’t really trying and we weren’t really asking him to do it. He looked as amazed as we did, but couldn’t do it again. Likewise, the other night Aaron was putting Eamon to bed: as I was leaving the room, I kissed Eamon and said goodnight, and got a reply of a wave and “Nigh-nigh.” Once again, everyone in the room looked surprised (including Eamon), but try as we all might, Eamon couldn’t repeat it.

Or last night, when he walked by my computer, saw a screensaver picture of the two of us, pointed and said in a rather flip voice, “Mama. Ea-ma” (which I assume was Eamon). When his Oma and Opa came, he regularly would point to the computer (all of which have pictures of him as the background) and announce, "Eamon." But when you point to him and say, "Who are you?" or try to induce him to say his name, he just smiles.

With walking, we eventually got him to at least practice by bribing him with teddy grahams. Once we got him practicing, he got better and better and now he wants to walk everywhere all the time. But how do you bribe him to talk, especially when he can only do it when he’s not really thinking about it?

The answer, of course, is that you don't. He'll talk when he's ready. We've taught him some basic signs, and he's learning more everyday, and there are some critics out there who might say, "Why would he bother to learn to speak when he could just sign?" Well, folks, because the signs don't take him very far. They are for things like "eat" or "drink." They don't tell us WHAT he wants to eat or drink. They basically just take the edge off the frustration, but they by no means convey the entirety of his thoughts.

And I know it's hard for him, too, because he seems to know what he wants to say. He understands a great deal of language, he just can't reproduce it. He seems to have no interest in using "baby talk." I have a feeling that one day, when his speech center really starts firing, I'll go into his bedroom in the morning and be greeted with, "Good morning, mother. Might I have some milk to break my fast this fine day?" Until then, of course, I'm happy with just an excited cry of "Mama!"

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