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Walking Tower of Babble

Cora’s almost fifteen months now,
and about six weeks ago I was watching a video of Maddie at fifteen
months and noting how verbal Maddie was; she had a few words down
cold, and would carry on entire conversations with people using
words only she understood. A far cry from the infantile babbling
you hear in babies, this was a full-blown language and attempt to
communicate. And while I was watching this fifteen-month-old Maddie
earnestly discoursing on the phone with a grandparent, I kept
thinking that Cora was so far away from that and would never be at
that point by fifteen months.

Boy, was I wrong.

A couple weeks ago Cora decided she was
sick of life passing her by; she had something to say, and was no
longer going to passively accept her circumstances. So she opened
up and hasn’t shut the gate yet. That girl has decided that
not only does she have something worth saying, but it’s not
her problem if you can’t understand her. In fact,
Cora’s only concession to the fact that she doesn’t
speak the same language as everyone else is that she may deign to
repeat what she just said, but LOUDER, until you figure out what
she’s saying.

Fortunately, Cora’s got enough words and signs under her belt
to make herself understood, at least to those of us who live with
her. “GAMMA!” she’ll bellow thunderously from the
bottom of the stairs at my mother up in her room. “Yes,
Cora?” will float down. “A gabba gook a boo de
book!” she’ll say, stabbing the library for emphasis.
“You want me to come read you a book?”
“Ess!” she’ll confirm, and march to the sofa to
await her reader.

Truth be told, I get a kick out of watching the tiny despot waddle
through the house, lecturing and discoursing on any and every
topic. If you’ve no idea what she’s saying, just start
guessing out loud and she’ll play “Hot or Cold”
with you by nods and shakes of her head, gesturing savagely if you
get “colder” until you finally hit the nail on the
head. A couple of times she’s had to work hard to get the
adult to understand and I swear she’s rolled her eyes at them
like she’s dealing with the village idiot. Mostly, though,
she’ll beam like you handed her a chocolate-covered pacifier
if you figure it out early on.

The down side, of course, is the realization that she now
understands pretty much everything we say, even if she can’t
repeat it herself. When Cora hits one of her needy points of the
day and has spent the last twenty minutes wrapped around my neck,
her head buried in my hair, I’ll try to pass her off by
distracting her. “Cora, do you want to go give Daddy a hug
and a kiss?” I’ll ask, starting to inch her over. An
emphatic “no” shake of the head answers that question
quite neatly.

But for the first time, I get the sense she feels like a real part
of the family rather than just a freeloader. When she’s
hungry, she’ll head to the snack pantry (and Maddie’s
“row of snacks” for those of you who remember) and bang
on the door, signing and saying, “Plis!” “Do you
want a snack?” I’ll ask. “Ess!”
she’ll nod, then proceed to describe her dream snack in
detail. After a few false starts, I’ll get the right snack
and hand it to her. Cora will insist on carrying it to her chair
herself, then turn and wait to be lifted up. I see that she enjoys
this bit of choice, this freedom to control even a small part of
her day.

Mostly, though, the girl just loves to talk. As she works hard to
expand her actual vocabulary – she tries hard when you help
her, and will add at least a word a day – I marvel at how
babies hit these developmental growth spurts, and how far
she’s come in a couple weeks. I’ve got to catch her
reading to herself on video; she cracks herself up. For now,
you’ll have to take my word for it.

Though if you’re in a hundred-mile radius, on a clear day,
you may hear it for yourself.


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