I have daydreamed about this moment since the very first time I heard James shriek. Mere moments out of the womb and I knew this child had an amazing set of lungs! Ear-piecing cries filled the operating room. He was whisked away to get cleaned up, weighed and measured and rated on the apgar score. All the while he continued to screech I kept thinking, “I am going to have my hands full with this one!”
The moment the nurse put that tiny little swaddled baby boy on my chest, I was in love and that was the moment I had waited 9 months to enjoy. Now, was the beginning of a new waiting game; waiting for all his “firsts.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every moment of motherhood with my newborn (with the exception of some very tiresome sleepless nights). Becoming James’ mom was the most fulfilling experience of my life. I did not want to rush through all the amazing milestones, but the one thing I knew I wanted more than anything was to hear this sweet, handsome, adorable baby boy call me, “Mom.” I knew his first words were many, many months away, but I anticipated them with an absurd expectation that I would somehow feel “complete” or “fulfilled” upon hearing him call me “Mom.”
I dreamed about it. I needed it. I yearned for it. I have my theories as to why it was so important to me, but I believe I felt the need to replace something precious that was lost. When I was 10 weeks pregnant, I lost my mother suddenly and unexpectedly to a heart attack. That horrible, black day is etched into my memory. It was the last time I would speak to my mom. The last time I would get a chance to say “I love you” to a remarkable woman, a role model and a best friend. I am grateful that I have no regrets about my relationship with my mom. Okay, one regret – I wish I had more time with her to hear her laugh, to knowingly wink at inside jokes, to enjoy her sharp witted humor, to taste her home cooked meals made with love. I wish I could go back in time and then slow down the hands of time and sit once again at her dining room table surrounded by friends and family who gathered to be near her and feel her warmth and enjoy her generosity. I wish I had just a few more moments to tell her how much I appreciate everything she did for me, and that all she silently sacrificed did not go unnoticed.
That dark day was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration and hope. I was scheduled for my first sonogram and Mom was going to join me to see the very first glimpse of her newest grandchild. She was going to be delighted by the sound of the heartbeat of my tiny little miracle. We were going to share this amazing experience together. Sadly, we never made it to that appointment. Instead I stood beside a gurney in a hospital and said my final goodbye. I whispered, “I love you Mom,” as I held her lifeless hand. I put Mom’s hand on my belly and promised that I would pass on her traditions to my unborn child. I promised that I would show this child as much love as Mom had shown me and to help set a good example with kindness, empathy and generosity.
That was a huge promise to make. My mom had the most amazing spirit and zest for life. She gave me guidance when I needed it and encouraged me to spread my wings. She often stood by silently and allowed me to fail, teaching me that I needed to pick myself up and try again. She nursed my wounds and soothed my broken heart more times than I care to remember. She was my greatest cheerleader and my voice of reason when I needed a reality check.
I stood there in that cold, lonely hospital room clutching her hand and understanding that I would spend the rest of my life trying to make her proud. I understood that I would make mistakes. I understood that I would falter. Most of all, I understood that I would teach my child to take chances and reach for things and I would be there to help pick him or her up. I understood that the one thing Mom would want for me and for my child would be for each of us to embrace life and love without regret.
And, so 27 months had passed since James came into this world, kicking and screaming and leaving his indelible footprints on my heart. Twenty-seven excruciatingly long months of agonizing, waiting to hear his first word. Okay, so I only agonized over his lack of speech for the last 18 months or so, but you get it.
It was a warm July afternoon and James and I were playing in his sandbox. My husband was removing the “baby” swing from the play set in the backyard, replacing it with a “big boy” swing for James and his little friends. The dog was resting in a shady spot near my husband.
Let me set the scene: sickeningly sweet suburban back yard snapshot – Mom, Dad, Baby and adorable black dog. It was the kind of afternoon that makes me appreciate our idyllic little life. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The roses were blooming. The air was warm and dry with a gentle breeze. It was the kind of moment you wish you had on video. If I could go back and do one thing differently about James’ early years, it would be to have a video camera trained on him 24/7 to capture the magic, the humor and sweet moments of joy that only babies can create. But, I digress. This is about James’ first word.
After all the worry, all the guessing, all the research into what was “wrong” with James and why he didn’t speak, at long last, he opened his mouth and uttered his very first words.
“Dada, more juice.”
James stood in front of my husband, holding up a red plastic cup.
I stopped raking the sand in the sandbox and looked up at my husband. My husband stopped twisting the bolt on the swing set and looked at me. In my memory, even the dog looked up in amazement, though I am sure this did not happen.
The world seemed to stop at that very moment. Everything went completely silent and still and we both turned to stare at James in disbelief. Neither one of us knew what to do or how to respond so we stood there, mouths hanging open and waited for James to do something.
After a few short moments James did do something. He repeated, “Dada, more juice?”
This time is was a question, as into ask, “Dada, did you hear me?”
Granted his pronunciation wasn’t perfect. He actually said, “Dada, mo zhoos,” but you get the idea.
I raised my eyebrows and looked at my husband who was just as bewildered as I.
After a few more silent moments my husband reached out to take the cup.
“Do you want me to get you more juice, Buddy?” my husband asked.
“Yesh,” was James’ reply.
I sat there next to the sandbox and started crying. My body heaved with uncontrollable sobs, giant salty tears streaked down my cheeks. I was elated. I was proud. I was relieved.
My husband took the cup from James and started to make his way across the yard toward the house. Smiling and virtually skipping as he glanced over his shoulder at me, he gave me a thumbs up.
James simply walked back to the sand box and picked up a dump truck.
I sat there, staring at him, wondering if he understood what just happened. I wondered what to do. Should I ask him to repeat himself? Should I ignore it? Should I jump up and grab him, squeeze him and tell him how proud I am that he spoke? I opted for no reaction at all, worried that making a big deal about it would cause James to go silent again.
After a few moments of silence, James looked up from the dump truck and sand. I stared at his beautiful little face and looked into his gorgeous eyes. He has my mom’s eyes; their grey-green irises are mesmerizing and beautiful. James looked back at me and handed me the dump truck. He took his tiny little hand and patted the tears on my cheek. He smiled. I smiled. Did he understand why I was crying? James patted the dump truck and then patted the sand, instructing me to play. James and I played side by side in silence.
My husband returned a few minutes later and handed James the cup full of juice.
“Here you go, Buddy.”
James eagerly grabbed the cup and took a long sip.
“Ahhhh. Zhoos,” he said and handed the cup back to my husband.
At long last I was able to relax just a little. The weight was lifted off my shoulders and the worry was alleviated – at least temporarily. Any parent can relate to the constant barrage of things to worry about, especially when you are a new parent. Journal Entry: Okay, so it was ‘Dada’ but it was so much more than that. It was a complete sentence. It was James showing us that he understands, that he is brilliant and that he is amazing. And, he has the cutest little voice! Fingers crossed that the silence is now broken permanently.
And when did James finally say, “mama?”
The following evening we were cuddling on the floor in James’ room for our nightly ritual of bedtime stories. After reading our beloved “Chugga Chugga Choo Choo,” as I closed the book James tapped my hand and said, “Mom.”
He turned to look at my face and I am sure I was grinning from ear to ear, then he stroked my cheek and repeated, “Mom.” He then nonchalantly got up and retrieved “Good Night, Moon” from his bookshelf.
James handed me the book, sat upon my lap and eagerly opened the cover.
“Read,” he instructed.
I was too choked up to read aloud so I simply hugged him. I squeezed him and kissed the back of his neck and he giggled. I tickled him and made him wriggle and laugh uncontrollably until I could regain my composure. After I calmed down, I read “Good Night, Moon” while James turned the pages in his usual fashion. I gave him a huge hug and lifted him up and over the rail placing him into the crib. He touched my face gently and again said, “Mom.” This time I wept openly and stroked his cheek and said, “Mommy loves you, James. Good night.”
I kissed him on his cheek and he giggled then laid himself down and softly repeated “Mom, mom, mom,” before pushing the button on his musical night light.
I closed his bedroom door and melted into a heap of joyful tears. I glanced at the portrait of my mom and smiled. I knew she would adore this child. I was sad for all the love James was missing out on because of Mom’s absence. Oh, how she would have spoiled this child. Journal Entry: Tonight I heard the sweetest voice say the sweetest word I have ever heard. James called me “Mom.” I am bursting with pride and also heartbroken because I want to call Mom to tell her that her grandson is a genius.