At first the conversation was pretty one sided. In fact, I did all the talking. I’m not sure he was even listening to me at all, actually. Which is pretty rude when you think about it. But I let it slide. I loved him from the first and I told him so. I think the very first thing I said to him was “Hi, I love you. I’m your Mommy.” But I’m not completely sure. I know he didn’t answer though.
When we got home, I began a monologue I would keep up for a year. Sometimes I told him about the things we saw – the trees outside the window, bare at first then beginning to bud. The weird rippling shapes on the ceiling that looked like mixed up animals or clouds. The books on the shelves. The water running in the sink. The clock, ticking.
Other times I told him what we were doing. “We’re going to change your diaper now. Let’s wipe you. Here’s some ointment. Okay, now here’s your new diaper.” Or what he was doing. “Wow, you’re really kicking your legs! Yikes, you just kicked the open dirty diaper onto the floor!” Or how I was feeling about what we were doing, “Mommy’s kind of freaked out right now. There’s a dirty diaper on the floor. I can’t pick it up and keep one hand on you like I’m supposed to. Mommy’s kind of new at this. Not really sure what to do.”
His eyes were unfocused, his mouth hung slack. His gaze would meet mine for a moment, accidentally it seemed, and then slide away. His noises were cute but didn’t seem to to mean much. Crying was his mode of communication. I responded as best I could.
One day he smiled at me. “Was that a smile?” I asked him. He smiled again. We were getting somewhere. My monologue shifted from drama to comedy. I enlisted the help of some stuffed animal friends. They talked to him in funny voices and made silly sounds. I was a laugh riot. And one day, finally, I got an actual laugh.
He cooed at me and I talked back. “Oh really?” I replied to a stream of squeaks and grunts. “That’s interesting!” He was looking at me, listening now. “What are you looking at?” I asked him. A pause. A stream of nonsense syllables. We were getting closer. I could feel it.
Sometimes I talked to entertain myself. It’s hard talking to someone who never answers. “Ring ring!” I said into the phone he accidentally flung off the wall and onto the floor at the doctor’s office. “Hello? I’d like to order a pizza.” I laughed so hard I cried. Was this funny? Probably not. I think I was going a little crazy. But I kept talking.
When he started eating solids I told him about each food. I congratulated him when he learned to crawl. I told him I didn’t like it when he pulled my hair and that we don’t punch people in the face. “This is a swing,” I said, putting him into it. “Look, a bird!” “Hey wow,” I said one day. You’re standing!” And, “Woah, you just took a step!”
Finally a sound began to detach itself from the rest. At first I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. “So after you finish your dinner we’ll have a bath. We can play with the rubber duckie and blow bubbles. That’ll be fun.” My monologue was practiced now, fluid and sure. “Do you want any more or are you all done?”
Silence. “Wait. What?” More silence. We went to the bathtub. He took his bath.
But the next day: “Are you all done?” “Done.” My God. A year is a long time to talk to someone, to love someone, without a single word in return. A very long time. And now, well, now everything was different.
“Dog!” “Yes, that’s a dog.” “Ball!” “Do you want to throw the ball?” “Boat!” “I see that boat, cool!” “Plane!” And, my personal favorite, “Ma!”
“Hold,” he demanded, reaching for the crayon. “Go!” he yelled as we sat in traffic too long for his liking. “Hi!” he said to a lady in the elevator. “Bye-bye!” he said when his dad left for work.
Dialogue. Finally! Dialogue. “Mommy, sit couch,” he said to me yesterday. “Sit on the couch? Okay. Why?” “Rest.” “Oh, you want me to rest? That’s nice. Thanks. I love you.”
“Wuv,” he said. “Too.”