The Power of Words
“Gracie,” said Mama, as she held out BearBear. “Who’s this?”
Ooooh. Ooooh. Ooooh. GAAAH! I answered.
Then I went limp and fell on my head. Mama picked me right up.
“Oh, Baby Girl, “she said. “Are you OK?” She cuddled me on the couch. I like the couch. I said, Gaaah.
Mama pulled a little on my hair. It felt good, like when that ant crawled around on my lip. Mama hadn’t liked that, though.
Dad came into the living room. “Everything OK?” he asked. “I heard a ‘thump.”
Mama said, “She’s fine, just a little fall. On her head, actually.”
Dad laughed. “Well, babies have really hard heads, right? All that stuff about the soft spot, I don’t believe a word of it. They always get right up.”
Mama smiled and shook her head. “Except when they don’t. Get up, I mean. Or if they can’t.”
Dad came over and sat on the other side of me. “Come on, babe. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s fine. She’ll learn to talk. They all do.”
Mama said, “Yeah, but when? Maybe she’ll give her high school valedictorian speech in googaga talk?” They both laughed.
I said, Ooooh Ooooh. Ooooh. Then I let some air out. Big fart!
“Oh, do you think she’s got a tummy ache?” asked Mama.
“No, why would she?” said Dad. “She’s been eating fine. Here, let me try.” He knelt down, put me on the floor and backed away a little. I was so tall that I could almost rest my elbows on the couch.
Dad held both my hands. He pulled a little. “Hey, who am I?” I knew who he was. But why tell him? We both knew he was Daddy.
I knew what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to talk. To use my words.
I didn’t want to talk, though. It seemed hard, like, really really hard. What if you didn’t know the right words? Talking just got you into trouble. People looked so serious when they talked, even about the weather. They’d argue. Sometimes they’d yell at each other, which I called super-talking. They’d get red in the face. Sometimes Mama would even say, “I give up. You just don’t get it!” and walk away even when someone else (usually Dad) was talking.
So, what was the point of talking? All pain, no gain, as far as I could see.
I waved at Daddy. “Walk to me, Gracie, you’re such a good walker,” he said. I lifted up my left knee to show him I understood. He smiled. “Good girl! See, Mol, she gets it. She understands what I’m saying.” He wiggled his head side to side like he knows I like. “Who am I?” he asked again.
I fell on my head. They both grabbed for me.
“Maybe tomorrow,” said Mama, holding me on her lap. “She’s tired now.”
“Yeah, but why?” said Dad. “It’s not like she’s done anything to get tired from.”
“Being a baby is pretty tiring, right, Grace?” Mon asked, pinching me on the cheek a little.
No, actually, it’s not. You take me in the stroller, feed me, cuddle me, and I don’t have to do a single thing. I don’t even have to ask for anything.
They’d been trying to get me to talk for a long time now, since my 2nd birthday. The doctor said, it’s fine, every kid is different, blah blah. The other babies in my playgroup were talking, but so what? I didn’t feel left behind: I didn’t want to talk.
The next day, it was just me and Mama at home. I liked those days: we’d play and cuddle. Sometimes we’d go to the playground. That was fun, except that if Mama met a friend there, they’d talk about me NOT talking. They’d say, “Gracie, who am I?” and wait for me to answer, even though everyone already knew they were Sally, Donna, or Brianna. I mean, they must already have known their own names.
I’d think, probably I could talk, but I don’t want to. It’s scary and I might get red in the face. What if I said the wrong thing? So, usually I’d just fall on my head. They’d comfort me and back off of the talking thing.
On this sunny, warm morning, Mama said, “Let’s go to the playground!” I let her put me into my car seat and did my best babbling ever on the drive. Ooooh Ooooh Ooooh and Ba Ba Ba and Ki Ki Ki, I said. To show I have a mouth that works.
Plus, I’m a really good walker. Shouldn’t that count for something?
When we got there, Mama’s friend Donna was already sitting on the bench. Donna’s son Jake was on the slide, my favorite playground toy. Even though Jake was only one year older than me, he always lifted me up the four stairs to the top of the slide. I started to run over to Jake.
But then I stopped. I saw that Donna had brought something really special to the playground. It was sitting next to her. A puppy!
Donna told Mama that Jake’s dad had brought Ralphie home from a shelter the night before. Ralphie was about 10 weeks old. He had a long red leash.
Ralphie was big and furry and slobbery. They let me pet him. Ralphie licked Mama’s glasses and then he licked my face. I licked him back on his big, black, wet nose.
“Oh no, Gracie,” said Mama, but she was laughing. “Not dog snot!” She wiped my face with a tissue. Then she wiped her glasses.
Donna pulled Ralphie back to the bench and patted his head. “Sorry he’s such a slob,” she smiled at Mama. “He’ll grow up.”
Just then, there was a scream from the slide. Jake had fallen off the top all the way to the ground! He just lay there, not moving. The playground was pretty soft, but still…it was a long fall. Donna threw Ralphie’s leash to Mama and jumped up to run to him.
Except, Mama wasn’t looking at Ralphie. She was looking on the ground for her glasses that fell when Donna jumped up. She didn’t see the leash that Donna tossed her.
But I did.
Ralphie did, too. As soon as his leash hit the ground, Ralphie took off across the playground. He was heading for the open gate. The street.
Ralphie was running away! Mama didn’t notice, and Donna was picking up Jake from the ground. I heard Jake say, “I’m fine, Ma.” I was glad.
What could I do?
What could I do?
If I just sat there, that big fuzzhead would run out on the street. He might get hit by a car.
What could I do?
Then I thought, I could use my words! But how could I do that? What would I say? Could I really…TALK?
I’d never really tried.
But I didn’t want Ralphie to get hurt! I had to save him!
So, I opened my mouth and pointed right at Ralphie. I yelled as loud as I could, “Ralphie! Help! Doggie! Out!” I screamed.
Mama turned around, jumped up and ran after Ralphie. She stepped on his leash just before he ran through the gate. Another second and he’d have been out on the street!
With the cars.
Mama picked up the leash and told Ralphie, “Ha, got you!” Ralphie licked her hand. She wiped it on her pants. They walked back to the bench.
Mama said, “Gracie, you talked. You really talked!” I think she was maybe crying a little.
Mama and Ralphie sat down. Ralphie tried to lick Mama’s face.
Mama patted him. She picked me up and put me on her lap. “Gracie, Gracie,” she said. “I’m so glad. You can talk!”
I can talk?
I can talk!
“And baby, you said just the right thing. You saved Ralphie from maybe getting hit by a car!” Mama was smiling.
My words had made Mama smile. I’d made Mama happy! And, I’d saved Ralphie!
My words mattered! Talking was a good thing!
I gave Mama a big smile back. She hugged me really, really close.
Donna came back with Jake, who asked, “Can we get ice cream now?” Donna said, “Sure!” She asked Mama, “Wanna meet at The Scoop Shoppe?”
Mama said, “Yeah, see you there.”
In the car on the way to ice cream, I said, “Mama!” She answered, “Yes, my darling?”
I said, “Slide. Jake.”
She said, “Jake fell off the slide. But he’s OK.”
I said, “Jake. OK.” I smiled at Mama in the mirror.
Mama said, “You saved Ralphie. I’m so glad.”
I said, “Ralphie. Doggie. Save.” I smiled at Mama again.
As we pulled into The Scoop Shoppe, I said, “Cone. Choco.” Mama said, “Sure!” She held my hand on the way into the store.
I think I can get into this talking stuff.