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Me Mommy. You Maddie.

When Madeleine was a newborn, she communicated by crying. A lot. Which made me cry.

A lot.

I felt so frustrated not being able to figure out what she needed, what she wanted, and give it to her. I couldn’t wait for the day when she’d be able to let me in on what was going on in her world.

One of the first signs we got that our conversations with her weren’t a one-way street was her name recognition. When she started turning her head towards someone who said her name, I was so proud I thought I’d burst. To see the understanding in her eyes made me feel that we were having, if not a conversation, at least a moment of acknowledgement.

From there, she moved to being able to clearly communicate her desires, but in her own language. She’d arch her back to be put down, reach for the floor to crawl, lean out of your arms to get to another person. She had no interest in meeting us on our level; Maddie was interested purely in making her wants known.

If Maddie then was the archetypal rich tourist, uninterested in learning the local language and demanding that all the natives adapt to her cultures and ways, Maddie now is the foreign exchange student, eager to immerse herself in the local lingo and learn the ways of the natives. She is the American student armed with two years of high school French sitting around a dinner table in Paris; she hears the conversation swirling around her and can even catch a glimpse of a familiar word or two, and she’s straining in her eagerness to dive into the flow and be understood.

In the past few weeks Madeleine’s ability to communicate has taken gigantic strides, and it’s incredibly exciting.

First off – I think I’ve mentioned she’s figured out the kissing thing. I say to her, “Maddie – kiss?” and she leans in to me and gives me a wet, unformed kiss (still not sure what to do with the lips). The first time I did it, I was amazed she knew both what the word meant and the basic “how-to” of the whole thing. Now, she’s going one step further, and makes a “mmmmwah!” sound when she kisses. In addition, she’s kissing not just in imitation, but in expression. She’ll kiss the kitty, she kisses her stuffed panda, and she kisses her loved ones spontaneously, without being asked. And the look of happiness on her face – the big “I’m so glad I could give that to you!” smile – is priceless. As is the look on my husband’s face when she kisses him goodnight every night.

She’s beginning to understand patterns of words and associate them with actions, too. Brian made up a song called, “Clap Your Hands” (guess what the goal is!). He was singing it to her while out on a walk the other day, but singing the “Clap Your Feet” verse. Imagine his surprise when she grabbed her feet with both hands and started clapping them together! Clever monkey.

And she’s begun to try to sign back to us, too, and that’s the biggest thrill for me. We’ve been teaching her a few basic signs from American Sign Language to help her communicate before she can speak, and this week she’s been consistently making the “more” sign if she’s still hungry.

I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it’s as if my cat walked up to me and said, “I give up. I can’t pretend any longer; I do understand you when you say ‘Don’t scratch the sofa’.” Maddie is trying to talk to me, on my level. Sitting at a dinner table with friends, her eyes are full and alert, jumping from person to person, drinking it all in. Standing in front of me at play time, she pounds my leg emphatically before talking, making certain she has my attention before trying to communicate. Cuddled in our rocker, she reaches behind me pointedly for a book. “Do you want to read this book?” I ask her, getting it down. Her eyes light up, and she shakes her head yes.

These are defining moments for us, the germ of a relationship. We’re going from relational roles –me mommy, you child, both of us playing out those parts – to being in relation with each other. We have things to say to each other, thoughts to share, ideas to express. It enables me to look down the line and get a glimpse of what it will be like when she’s grown, when we are relating to each other by choice, with a whole lifetime of shared experiences behind us.

It’s gonna be great.


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