From the kitchen entrance, I look through my laundry room to the rising sun. I see our neighbor’s kitchen window. Their kitchen light is on. I see a faint shadow walk by their window and I give thanks we’re not the only ones awake at this hour.
“Mama, mama!” Charlotte’s voice floats down the hallway. “Read my books,” I hear her say.
“A, B, C….” A smile forms as I picture her looking at her books, pointing to the letters she knows and can say. Next, I hear a knock, and both kids start communicating with each other through their shared wall.
Charlotte begins, “1, 2, 3,” and is met by her younger brother’s voice, “4, 5, 6!”
From this moment on, the morning gets louder. And with each sound, word, and sentence, I give thanks.
For there was a time when the words weren’t there, and there was no noise in our house. Communication consisted of sign language and finger pointing and my sighs and worries, wondering if speech would ever come for my daughter. It never failed, though, that others would assure me, once my daughter did start talking, I’d wish she would stop every once in a while.
In my head, I remember the comments offered during my daughter’s first years when all I wished for was one word: “Just you wait, when your daughter starts talking there will be days you wish she’d stop talking!”
Or the similar sentiment: “There’s no rush for them to start talking because once they do, they never stop.”
Deep down I knew, and silently vowed to myself, that I would never utter those words. My own internal dialogue feared we’d never get there because she wouldn’t talk, so I couldn’t imagine a time filled with words, sentences, and stories. It seemed that every week I’d ask the speech therapist a variation of the same question: Will Charlotte talk? Surrounded by children chattering and hearing the sounds (or lack thereof) my daughter offered, I worried in the dark of night that I’d never have a conversation with her.
For so many months, I longed to hear my daughter’s voice. An ache consumed me every time I heard children her age speaking in sentences while I continued to communicate with sign language, fingers pointing, and the occasional shriek and cry. I couldn’t get past the fact that Charlotte wasn’t talking and I somehow knew that if, and when, she did start talking, I’d cherish each word.
I walk toward the kitchen as I hear tiny feet make their way down the hall. Isaac arrives first with a clean diaper thanks to his dad, and he heads straight for the cabinets. The cabinet door opens, followed by the rattle of plastic mix-and-match bowls and plates. He grabs a bowl and slams the drawer shut and runs to the other counter.
“O’s, o’s, o’s, bowl o’s!”
“How do you ask?” I say for the first, but definitely not the last, time.
He smiles and says, “Please,” while rubbing his hand in circles across his chest. He doesn’t need the sign language with his growing vocabulary but it’s a remnant from the years Charlotte didn’t talk.
Finally, Charlotte arrives and makes a beeline for the same cabinet of bowls, shutting it equally loudly. They’re both beside me asking for o’s; two bowls and four hands reaching up to me.
“O’s, too,” Charlotte cheers.
“You want o’s?” I ask.
“How do you ask?” There it is again.
Holding back a sigh, I say, “The whole sentence, please.” It’s the phrase we use repeatedly to encourage her to speak in full sentences.
And finally, with a determined voice, she says, “I. Want. O’s. Please. Mama.”
“Good talking,” I say, repeating a phrase I overheard used by our first speech therapist.
I pour their cereal while Isaac bounces his body up and down in excitement. Charlotte laughs and cheers.
“O’s, o’s, o’s,” fills the kitchen in their chorus of voices.
“Bubba eat o’s, Mama,” Charlotte tells me as Isaac stuffs another handful in his mouth.
“Sister, bowl o’s,” Isaac responds, continuing to eat his o’s.
I watch them together and listen to their voices. I look out the window towards the sun and our neighbors, wondering if they feel this much joy from such simple words. Looking again at Charlotte and Isaac, I see that for the moment they’re happy and talking together.
Charlotte is 4 now and every sound, word, and sentence is a gift. I’ve watched hours of speech therapy learning how to mimic her therapist. I use repetition and song a lot, I place popsicle sticks in her mouth to move her tongue into the correct position, and I cheer every time a new sound or word arises from her mouth.
I tell my daughter, over and over, “thank you” and “good job” when she says words correctly. “Good talking” has become part of our vernacular.
On the drive to preschool one day, Charlotte clings to her school bag filled with the day’s snack for her class.
“What did you bring for snack, Charlotte?” I ask, knowing that she can say the words, and that she asked specifically for this snack.
“Grapes! Cheese, too!” She smiles proudly.
“That sounds so good!”
“My friends like this snack.” I quickly look back at my daughter and smile, in awe of the length of the sentence and breadth of her words.
“Good talking! That’s a great sentence,” I say happily.
I hear every new sound and word like a rush of water, surprising and delighting me every time.
I know there are moments when Charlotte and Isaac’s fighting and incessant whining and questions drive me bonkers. But I also know that every word spoken is a gift, even the loud nos and the huffs of frustration when a toy is taken by a sibling. Some days I desire more quiet for my sanity, and long to lock myself in the office for a few minutes of solitude, but I’ve never wished that my children would not talk.
Because whether it’s breakfast or fighting in the backseat of the car, early morning wake-ups or arguing over who plays with the trains, the voices and words of my children rise up as my prayers of gratitude.