Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The best 20 minutes I ever had at the park

Yesterday something wonderful happened. James was, as usual, walking and climbing up the slide, and a little boy about his age was trying to come down. He said, nicely, "excuse me", but James didn't move--just stood smiling at him. Now, the hundreds of times this has happened before, the other child's mom has come over, telling her child to go back up, or to be careful because he's little, or has given me meaningful looks as she explains the classic preschool rule, "slides are for going down, not up" (this always makes me want to produce James' physical therapist, a la Woody Allen, who will explain all the wonderful things slides are for). This time, though, nothing happened. I looked surreptitiously at the parents, and they weren't going to interfere.

The other boy inched down the slide. James stood his ground, leaning forward a little bit, smiling. The boy bumped his feet against James', and giggled. James laughed. Then James "fell" forward, his hands on the little boy's tummy. The little boy burst out laughing, backed up, and they repeated this routine again, and again. Then the boy went to a platform about three feet off the ground and made a flying leap off of it. James looked. I stood up. Uh oh. James looked down. Then he backed up, raised his hands up high, and slapped them on the ground. It's his way of jumping. Good choice, James, I mumbled to myself, and I sat down again. The boy, delighted with his audience, jumped over and over, James' ground slaps coinciding with his landings, everybody laughing. James had never met this boy before, and rarely plays with other children besides Isabel, but not until yesterday had I realized to what degree this has been due to the interference of adults, who are trying to keep everybody safe, and everyone doing the standard activities, without any kind of conflict. I wish everyone could, as Marco puts it, "trust the baby".

Oh yes, and meanwhile, Isabel and the little boy's little brother were busy exchanging a yellow leaf that she had proffered him. They would each inspect it, very seriously, and then hand it over to the other with the utmost gravity. Then they sat down in the wet tanbark and let it run through their fingers. I wish I had had the guts to ask the mom to send me the movie it looked like she was taking with her phone.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

James signs and Isabel talks. Or is it the other way around?

James used to sign for Isabel when she was little, and crying, and he was sure he knew what she wanted. He'd sign "mama" on her chin, or "milk" right above her face. Sometimes he'd sign "sad" or "cry", and sometimes he'd just cry along with her. This morning I looked down from my dining room chair to see Isabel patting her leg as she looked at dogs in her picture book. Milk, dog. That's two signs she can use, now.

We're not supposed to worry about her speech--she's naturally more interested in how James communicates. How does he? James signs, patiently, stories about donkeys and chickens until I've got the sequence right, but still little idea what he's talking about. He puts the elephant in the round blue block, signs "potty" and laughs. I hear him murmuring "mama, mama" over and over in the morning, as Marco convinces him that Mama is sleeping at six o'clock in the morning and wouldn't he like to watch a little Elmo? But James, also, said "ee" last night, when I told him it was time to eat. Marco's head and mine whipped around. "Did you say 'eat'?" we asked. James grinned. I think that's the first time he's made that vowel in two and a half years. We wonder if he caught the sound from Isabel--it's her constant companion. She says it emphatically, giving it extra oomph at the beginning, alternating furrowed-brow expressions with maniacally delighted ones as it ekes its way to the end.

Maybe they aren't trading languages--too simplistic, I guess--but they've got some kind of exchange going. James tries to get Isabel to pass the ball back and forth to him, he providing most of the impetus and the accuracy, and she the giggling soundtrack. They play for a long time.