A couple of months ago, just before he turned 4, Will, who had been silently mouthing words in the family room, suddenly piped up with an observation: "Mom, your name is the only one in our family that you can say without moving your tongue!" Then he demonstrated. I found myself copying him to verify. He meant, of course, "Mom," not Alexandra. But he was right. Even "dad" requires some different placement of the tongue. I should have know he was up to something.
Shortly after that, his sweet little pronunciation (or mispronunciation) of 'r' changed. He used to sort of swallow the r, in that very typical way of young kids. He is "foe" not "four," etc etc. But suddenly he began over-enunciating his rs. He was fouRRR, now. Did we want to go to the stoRRRRRe? And now his little brother is PoRRRRRteRRR. He had performed speech therapy on himself and in the couRRRRse of a few weeks he had gone from his sweet mispronunciation to funny over-enunciation and now perfect pronunciation of r. He explained that he had to do this because he wasn't saying his words coRRectly. He was tired of me sometimes being confused about what he was communicating to me. I don't even notice anymore, we are that used to the change. I even thought to myself when he was going through the transition that I needed to videotape him speaking, because he would still slip back into old ways, and I wanted to capture it before it was extinguished. But I just didn't. I found some footage of him at his birthday breakfast declaring himself to now be "foe," but it is so short.
The least I can do is record now that it happened over the Christmas season. And though I have printed it here before, this poem has taken on special relevance.
Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children
They will not be the same next time. The sayings
so cute, just slightly off, will be corrected.
Their eyes will be more skeptical, plugged in
the more securely to the worldly buzz
of television, alphabet, and street talk,
culture polluting their gazes' pure blue.
It makes you see at last the value of
those boring aunts and neighbors (their smells
of summer sweat and cigarettes, their faces
like shapes of sky between shade-giving leaves)
who knew you from the start, when you were zero,
cooing their nothings before you could be bored
or knew a name, not even your own, or how
this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye.
Perhaps this is the silver lining to Porter's failure to develop the power of speech? (He has about 10 or 12 words).