This?

About 6 months ago my then 14 month old was starting to say words. “Dad”, “Mom”, “ball”, “dog” and “go” were part of his everyday communication in our house when, out of the blue, it all stopped. “Ball” became “uhhhh!”, as did every other word he knew. We were perplexed.

A week of vaccination and autism discussions later, we turned to talks about speech and hearing testing. That led to a whole other world of frustration, as the specialists we called to schedule tests with continued to not return phone calls. A few more weeks went by and we went in to see his pediatrician. If the specialists were too busy to return calls, then dammit a good ‘ol generalist would have to do.

As it turns out, our son had a double ear infection. He went on antibiotics, started sleeping better and eventually returned to the aforementioned “core” words.

We started reading to him more and asking him to say what we wanted. “Uhhh!” was replaced with “This?” and pointing, which, given the circumstances was a huge improvement.

“Ba-na-na.”

“Milk.”

“Juice.”

We’d say over and over again, hoping a new word would catch on.

“This?” was all we got back.

While I don’t have the ability to read minds, I felt a sort of complacency setting in. I mean, why learn words when your two, very talkative older brothers say everything for you? At this point I figured he would master the few words he knew and end up with a fine career serving breakfast refills while offering fresh local produce on a tropical island. With the older two scoring in the Genius and Above Average IQ ranges a Dad has to realize that 2 out of 3 ain’t bad and that maybe Judge Smails was right — the world needs ditch diggers too.

But then the dam broke. My little boy started saying words non-stop! “Juice!”, he’d say. “Foot!”, he’d point. “Mouth!”, he’d mumble, chewing his pointing finger. All was right with the world.

As most parents with three (or more) kids do, you end up playing zone defense. Or, if it’s late in the day, adopt the “no one’s crying so they must be ok, right?” attitude. I believe my wife and I were talking in our bedroom when my sixth sense, also known as guilt, kicked in.

“Do you think the boys are ok?” I asked.

“They’re not crying,” my wife lovingly said.

And with that, in a caring voice, screamed “What are you doing, boys?”, expecting two “nothings!” in return.

“Playing Rock Band,” my oldest bellowed.

“On my computer,” my middle son said.

And then there was a pause.

“Guys, where’s your brother?”

“I dunno,” they replied.

Panicked, I turned to run down the stairs, my mind racing with potentially dangerous things he may’ve gotten into. Basement. Bunk beds. Tool box. Cleaning closet. Dog food.

I heard footsteps coming upstairs so I paused. It was our little angel, walking up the steps with his hands behind his back. I immediately breathed a sigh of relief knowing he wasn’t injured or getting into anything he shouldn’t. He reached the top of the stairs, looked at me and held out his hands.

“This???” he asked.

I bent down, thinking “Oh, man, I get what I deserve – he just got into some chocolate and is gonna be up all night now.”

“Let me see your hands”, I said bending down to sniff. It was within a few inches of my nose to his hands that I realized “this” meant my son had the letters to the word out of order.