This means “Cookie,” as in the monster, not “cookie” the treat. My 18 month old daughter says this word when she finds her Cookie Monster doll or her twin brother is wearing his Cookie Monster pajamas. “Teetee!!” she squeals when her beloved blue buddy pops on the screen, and inside I feel the thrill that rises up when you see your child finding their voice right before your eyes.
Years ago, pre-kids, I had a friend whose toddler had a noticeable speech delay and significant pronunciation impediment. I have worked with young ones for almost 20 years, and I literally could not understand a word this little guy said. I remember marveling at my friend, his mama, who understood every garbled word, wondering how on earth she could possibly know what he was trying to communicate. She would interpret for him, essentially, narrating his words for him calmly and pleasantly: “Oh, you would like to play with that truck.” She was always right, and I thought she had some magic skill set for decoding the unintelligible. How did she do it?
What I didn’t get–and could never have gotten before becoming a mom–is that loving, attentive parents will always speak their kids language.
My twins came along and within days I could tell their cries apart from each other. Soon I could tell C’s hunger cry from B’s tired cry from across the house. Over time I learned which screeches were for joy and which were anger, pain, and need for attention. I learned that “uh-uh oh,” B’s first reliable word/phrase (yes, two “uh”s, I guess for momentum?), meant anything that fell to or belonged on the ground. I knew that when C held his hands over his ears he was actually playing Peek-a-Boo, and that “whoa-whoa-whoa” sung at the same pitch over and over is “Row Row Row Your Boat” and requires immediate swaying side to side.
Watching my babies learn to communicate has been one of the most awe-inspiring and exciting aspects of motherhood for me, and I see now that Ang and I are their bridge to a voice the whole world can hear. They need us to understand them at this early stage in their speech development because no one else can and they are so eagerly trying to tell us and everyone around them who they are and what they need.
Not only are we interpreters for our young children, we are tasked with the incredible privilege and responsibility of being the first people who say back to them we hear you. We understand you. You have a voice, you matter, and you are heard.
These days the words are flying out so fast I can barely keep up: “Hep” for help; “upin” for “open” or please do this mechanical task I can’t do ; “buck buck” for the neighborhood chickens who wander our yard. Some of their words are getting clear enough that they don’t need my interpretation anymore—they can speak “hi” and “no” and “buh-bye” to grandparents, teachers and friends all by themselves. Some of their speech has us rolling with laughter (poor Tucker at daycare is “caca” for the time being). Some of it–B’s sweet, soft “mama” and C’s joyous “YAY!”–is so heartbreakingly beautiful that I never want them to say it any other way. When they grow up, I hope they are as confident and courageous with their voices as they are right now.