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On my fourteenth birthday I got a new cash register.

On my twenty-first birthday I procured a mug and a balloon on the sly. On my thirty-first birthday, my delicious niece was born. On my thirty-third birthday, my daughter decided to surprise us.

My child speaks in the outline of words. Her words usually break down into four categories: sign language, words only she understands, approximations, and strong purposeful words.

The first category is beautiful. Her little fingers come together to ask for help. She gestures to her mouth to say “thank you”. She rubs her hands back and forth when she is pleading for cheese. And our personal favorite – the two hands on the top of her head to create a triangle, signifying she is ready for more strawberries. Turns out when you make up a funny song, the hand gestures stick. Sorry school.

Words only she understands is a really entertaining character. Like all children acquiring language, she will look at the lips of a person speaking and imitate the sounds she hears coming from their mouth. However, she cognitively processes sounds and words differently, so she will have entire conversations, monologues, epic poems for just herself. And they are hysterical. The most recent adventure, I believe, could have been about her cousin riding on a balloon until it popped. Perhaps last week she said she sold something on Ebay, and there is an elephant under her armpit. Whatever it is she is saying, we have been coached and learn to interpret as we go and continue the conversation.  We respond with, “Really! That’s wonderful!” and she proudly smiles in return. Our background as theatre educators makes this perpetual improvisational game pretty routine. This type of language is exhilarating because we see Jordan is interested, she is expressive, and most importantly – she is happy.

Approximations, the clinical term for her speech production, are stepping stones for her language. We like to think of it as a game Jordan is playing with you. You will hear the sound “Bbbb” and then look around the room to see what starts with that sound. Do you want a banana, honey? Bagel? Bassoon? Her extensive therapies work on turning these approximations into larger utterances. Their work is nothing short of magic.

I imagine every parent experiences this feeling when this little person starts to tell them what they are thinking.

I remember my neighbor stopping his mom to ask is Is Santa in the Moon? Or my niece reassuring my very pregnant sister It is okay I dont want to go to bed Mommy, because I LOVE ice cream. I only know what I know –  there is no greater joy that I have experienced than watching a child who is not supposed to… do exactly what they said she wouldn’t.

The fourth category: she speaks. Small. Carefully chosen words. Words that she is been cultivating for weeks. Pointing in books. Modeling. Studying. Repeating. Sounding out and then one day claiming as her own. She speaks. Momma. Ice Cream. Mickey. Important and purposeful words to get her through her day. Pink. Pink skirt. An unfamiliar listener may not hear it, but to us it is music.

I head out to work every day. The same way every day. My scarf implies that Mommy is going to work. I am a typical English teacher who wears a scarf- yes every day. In her world, Mommy only goes two places: work and pee pee. And this morning, as I always do, I kiss her on her forehead and say “Bye little one. Mommy is going to work. Have a great day. I love you.”

And for my thirty-third birthday, a little voice carefully replies, “I love you.”