By: Sheana Ochoa
I’m curious. After watching this video, comment on whether you identify Noah as a baby or a boy.
Last week Noah pointed to his ear and said, “I hurt.” I knew instantly it was an earache and although I know they’re common in infants and toddlers, and Noah has already been treated for an ear infection, this one seemed more serious. Hearing the words “I hurt” punctuated the severity of his pain and the necessity of my response. But in our family you don’t just jump up and run to the emergency room at the first sign of discomfort. You wait it out, suffer a bit, see if it can wait till the morning. So, I gave him Tylenol, he asked to go to bed, and we thought we were in the clear.
The cries came from his room minutes later. Not the usual manipulative, supplications of attention, but quiet whimpers. I entered his room a number of times to see if there was anything he wanted, but clearly he just wanted to be out of pain so he could go to sleep. An hour later we got him dressed and drove to the ER. He cried for the next two hours, which you’d think would expedite being seen, but we waited over three hours before getting a room and another hour before seeing a doctor.
During the wait, we were called to check his vitals. The nurse tried wrapping a monitor around Noah’s finger with surgical tape to take his blood pressure, but he wasn’t having it. So, the nurse tried the toe, only to have Noah protest categorically, “I don’t like the sticker! I want it off!” I’d never heard him be so articulate. It was as if he knew he had to communicate effectively in this foreign context in order to be heard. At home, Mama figures out by process of elimination what he wants, but here, under the fluorescent lights at 2 am in the morning with this strange man sticking a thermometer in his mouth and attaching stickers to his fingers and toes, he needed to take charge.
As a parent you sometimes feel like you’re being had, and at that moment I was both proud of his assertiveness and suspicious of his powers of manipulation over me. If he could speak so clearly in this situation, why doesn’t he do so at home?
Granted, it’s only been the last two weeks that Noah has begun using the subject and verb. Instead of “baba please,” he says, “I want it, baba,” or “I want it, bread.” I don’t know why he interjects “it,” before the direct object, but it’s better than saying “Me want baba or bread,” which I’ve heard other kids at daycare say (not that I’m comparing). While his most popular mantra is “I want it,” his use of language is maturing in other areas, such as the personal pronoun. He had “mine,” down a couple of months ago, but now he’s saying “yours,” and “your turn.” These are elementary advancements, but to a writer and person interested in linguistics, I’m fascinated by how the layers of language evolve, especially as he simultaneously learns Spanish. Interestingly, he doesn’t utilize sentences consistently. He is still simply saying “agua” when he wants to bathe or “up” when he wants up on the bed, but I’m wondering how much of that is habit, and therefore laziness, especially after hearing my tortured baby dragged into the ER in the middle of the night protest his finger monitor like a grown up boy.
Despite feeling manipulated, a bigger part of me is grieving the passing of babyhood. The better he talks, the less a baby he is. Part of me is glad that at 28 months, Noah’s speech is behind most of his peers. He’s in the 100th percentile in height and weight so he looks a year older than his age, but as long as he still says “mimis” for I want to go to bed and “dinosaur hiding” for “Lets play hide-and-seek” the longer he remains a baby and the further away he is from being a boy. I know better not to hold him back, but it really is happening so fast. Whereas before I went through life ignoring its passing, growing older, all I have to do is see his face mature, watch him feed himself, or scribble and tell me, “I make a dinosaur,” to realize life keeps moving and I will never get the present moment back. It’s a powerful reminder of how easy it is to squander these early years. It’s a powerful reminder of my own mortality.
After a two-minute peek into his ears, we got the antibiotics and Noah felt better the next morning, which is, as my fiancée likes to say, “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”