At our last checkup the pediatrician went out of his way to tell me how normal it was that my toddler wasn’t talking yet.
“I’m not worried about it,” I told him.
“Oh, really,” he said.
I deserved the note of disbelief in his voice. I have a history of being worried. In both of my son’s charts there’s probably a note that says something like, “Beware the mother — she Googles everything.”
“Not concerned in the least,” I assured him.
Then he exited the room, probably so he could hit up Google and make sure the world was still spinning.
I’m not looking to slow down my son’s development, but if he isn’t ready to talk, I’m also not complaining. The hyperactivity I felt for my first son to reach every milestone — that feeling of accomplishment because “we” had made it — hasn’t disappeared, but it has been overshadowed. As soon as my first son reached a milestone, I looked to the next. But with this child I feel a pull in the opposite direction. Like it’s time to turn around and say goodbye.
We have moved beyond bottles. The toys he pushed while learning to walk are completely forgotten. All the pacifiers, onesies and socks small enough to fit a turnip are in the Tupperware labeled “giveaway.” I haven’t given the container away yet, but the label was a big step.
Once he starts talking, everything baby will be behind us. And the 1 a.m. nights when I wondered if I would ever sleep again, of course, are not on my mind — what I remember are nights I woke at the exact moment he did. When I was there to pick him up as he let out his first cry, the only way for him to tell us he needed something.
I also remember the mornings he didn’t have to cry, when scrunching his nose with a sigh meant he was ready for breakfast. Or standing in line at the grocery store as the checker said, “Looks like somebody is tired,” and I smiled politely because somebody was annoyed he’d been stuck in a shopping cart for an hour. The stretched-out bottom lip was the sign.
I’m not sure how long we have — weeks, maybe a month — until he can tell the world how he feels. It’s a sure bet that by the end of summer he will have discovered the power of the tongue. And so these are the last days for our own language, when I am the only one who knows what it means when he toddles into the room in the hot stretch of the afternoon, raises an eyebrow and looks at the front yard.
Together we wordlessly walk to the freezer. Then he waits with big eyes while I open the door, and once he sees the popsicles inside, he exhales a gust of pure joy.
I have never been a popsicle girl, but this is when I take out one for him and one for me. It’s a summer of the unexpected, with the world still on its axis but barely. Instead of Blue Bell pints there are popsicles. Where I once believed I would happily wave bye-bye to babyland, instead I mourn.
We sit outside, just he and I. Chunks of popsicle roll down his chin and into the grass. He picks them up, squeezing, loving that the frozen treat will turn to strawberry water and that this world can change right in front of his eyes.
I, of course, am less comfortable with change. I work fast, turning the popsicle, trying to outsmart the heat so I can avoid what is sticky and uncomfortable. But it’s a pointless undertaking. Even if by the end of summer I have figured out how to deftly take down a popsicle, there is no licking time.