Up until now, we have said things to the babies and they smile. Sometimes, when we say their names loud enough, they turn their heads to meet our gaze. They play in their cribs after bath time and the rising pitch and pace of our repeated ‘peek-a-boo’ refrain makes them bend their knees up-and-down with excitement. Before dinner every night they crane their necks to follow whomever is in charge of dishing out the purees– they trace our steps from the bib drawer to the pantry, and their eyes follow our hands as we spin the rice cereal into mush round-and-round. Before tonight they have reacted to our words, but until tonight, they have not really responded to our words.
But that changed, because Everett learned how to clap today. I think my mom taught him, but she didn’t say that she did so maybe we taught him? I noticed him waving his chubby, smooth hands together, cushions of soft skin separated by the lines of his tiny palms, like the curves of a padded seat cushion around its buttons on a hard-backed kitchen chair. One palm finds the other and I ask “are you clapping Everett?” He catches my eyes and haphazardly waves his arms back and forth, smiling with delight when one hand unexpectedly meets the other. He has always liked to bang things (oh Crush– you Bruiser!) and it’s almost only natural to let the one arm swing without direction and without aim (but oh, with gusto!)– into the other. We cheer and applaud every time, circling around him. “Yes! Clap, Everett, clap!” we yell. And he claps and we yell and he claps.
Later on, to test his memory and to justify my awe, I ask him to do it again. No actions, no modeling– just the word. The sound brought forth from the idea in my mind that came from I don’t know what before that. (What comes before the idea?) This abstract request takes on shape and sound and rolls across the room into Everett’s tiny ears where he is perched sideways on Jacob’s lap. They enter into the wide empty vessel that is his mind– up until now a mind filled only with little bursts of pre-lingual longings. Just an amorphous, mist of yearning- desires to be held, and to drink, and be held again. The mist knows darkness is lonely and warmth is better and nothing beats the goodness of peach-flavored puffs. The sparks and synapses do not yet know the names of things but somehow know those things. But that was until tonight. Because tonight a word took shape and entered that fog– entered that fog not as sound but as meaning.
I say “clap” and he claps! Not a reaction but a response. From idea to word to mind to action. And I see the meaning there, on that no-longer-blank canvas, spilling out across his mind in beautiful white burst, like the seeds of a snow-white dandelion pressed up tightly against glass.
He’s delighted and we’re delighted. Who knows what words will come next?