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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

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The Language of the Left Behind

The littlest Who starts preschool today, three days a week. Every weekday morning for the past fortnight, he has stood with his new Diego backpack at the front door, wailing "ME SCHOOL," as the storm door slams shut behind his older brothers.

"Look at my eyes," he says to me, with recrimination. This is his new way of telling me he's sad. Somehow he can make them well up on cue.

I've told you how close my eldest children, two years and four days apart, are. Peas and carrots. Since he began to speak, my youngest has referred to them in third person, singular: "La-la," he called them. Rather like the twins, Samneric, from Lord of the Flies. (I could easily carry the Lord of the Flies analogy off into a whole other direction, but it would take me away from my point, and besides, the summer holidays are now behind us and the healing can begin).

All the rest of us began to call them "La-la" as well. "Time to go pick up La-la," I'd say. The big boys used it to refer to themselves. "This is La-la's toy," one of them would say, dangling some coveted object just out of reach.

Only recently, he began to differentiate between them. The six year old remained La-La, but the eight year old has spun off into "Wo-Wo." Neither phonetically resembles their actual names, but we have all adapted to them.

I took all three for their annual physical exam last month, and the doctor noted that his language did seem a little behind. I told her I was aware of it, but that I wasn't worried, as both children born after my first have been slow to talk.

"Hm," she said. "How old are you?" she asked him.

"Three," his older brother piped up.

"Why speak," I said, "when someone can do it for you?"

"I see."

After I muzzled the big boys, she had a minute to interview the baby directly, free of interference from his spokespeople. It was a rare exclusive. She agreed afterwards that his language is coming along just fine, even if he doesn't get much of a chance to use it.

Since La-La and Wo-Wo have been back in school, his vocabulary has been expanding exponentially, often delightfully. He is developing his own unique patois, like people do who are cut off from the mainstream of civilization. Here he is in his favorite shirt, a vintage souvenir t from a now defunct folk festival. It is silk screened with an illustration from one of my father's children's books, One Wonderful Fine Day for a Sculpin Named Sam. A sculpin, in case you've never seen one, is a ghastly looking fish.

My guy's word for it?


Isn't that so much better? "Sculpin" sounds like the noise you make in your throat when you almost step on one, washed up dead on the beach and covered with flies. "Dragonfish" sounds ancient and mysterious, rare and collectible. Don't you wish you had one for your aquarium? The sculpins should get him for their spokesperson.

He may be a man of few words, but he makes them count. I predict he will make a brilliant spin doctor. Today, spinning for sculpins, tomorrow, presidents. And if the words don't convince you of his message?

Just look into his eyes.

Don't forget I am guest posting at Design Mom all week. Come over and say hi.



Blogger Kirsten Michelle said...

your little guy's such a sweetie!!!
my daughter hardly spoke for the first 3.5 years of her life. now that she's four, she seems to feel the need to make up for lost time ;-)
i'll definitely try and pop over to design mom and see what you're up to there this week.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Cool City Mom said...

I just discovered your blog from Design Mom. Your post hits home. My youngest is starting preschool next week and cannot wait. Both my boys have also been slow talkers; my youngest can only be understood by us. The doctor worries, but we have been through this with the older one too, and he can't stop talking now.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

My two oldest are 22 months apart and are collectively referred to as "the big girls" by my youngest. I often treat them as one unit, mostly for convenience sake, esp. over the summer when they are only a year apart in age.

My youngest started preschool today. I was expecting her not to be verbal, to rely on her older sisters to always do things for her, but she turned out to be the opposite, wanting to do everything the big girls do and talking up a storm.

11:26 PM  
Blogger /\ said...

sculpins look a lot like deep sea dragonfish. maybe he is sneaking visits on wikipedia when you're not around? which would give us something in common, incidentally...

7:34 PM  
Blogger Family Adventure said...

Your boy is just adorable. I love, love, love his hair. I've always wanted my boys to have curls...
The speaking thing - we have two languages in our household, so the boys were expected to be delayed. However, the oldest one spoke super early and well. The youngest one, he is 7 now, and he still speaks somewhat unclearly. I just feel the kids are all so different, and the range of what is "normal" or at least "acceptable" is huge. I think the doctors are right to inquire, but they have to tread VERY gently and realize that we parents can be irrational and freak out with worry if they suggest something is off. Especially when in the vast majority of cases, everything is just fine and the child is just following his or her own little path through life. Fortunately for your kids, you seem very levelheaded about it all :)
Great blog, by the way. I only just found it. Your writing is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

3:10 AM  

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