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.