Posted by: mindyourknitting | November 17, 2009

Use Your Words

Originally I was going to write an amusing little tribute to my daughter’s fast-growing vocabulary, but then I realized that it’s November 17th.  In the United States November is the March of Dimes’ Prematurity Awareness Month, and bloggers all over the place are posting pieces today in honour of the “Fight for Preemies.”  You can’t chuck a stick on the interweb today without hitting a post by a parent of a preemie.  And guess what you’re about to read?  The Canadian branch of the March of Dimes has a slightly different focus, but I thought I could still use today as an opportunity to say a little something about my preemie, who has started on the road to supreme mastery of the English language, and has come such a long way from her tiny beginnings. 

Six days old

Anyone who’s read my early posts knows that with eight weeks to go in a  near-perfect pregnancy, my water broke at 32 weeks exactly and our daughter was born at 32 weeks and 3 days.   Guilt was a difficult thing for me to deal with, because I didn’t know what to feel guilty about, yet I felt it.  I felt like I had to have done something to cause her early arrival, but I couldn’t figure out what I had done, and neither could the doctors.  I did everything right during my pregnancy (actually even before, when we started trying to get pregnant) and things still went wrong.  I had excellent prenatal care, I took prenatal classes, ate (reasonably) well, took my prenatal vitamins, didn’t drink a drop, I don’t smoke, I avoided coffee and other sources of caffeine, and the list goes on.  And to this day no one can tell me why it happened.  I failed as a pregnant lady.  It’s frustrating, as my husband and I look ahead to start thinking about planning at some point (not right now) for a second child, to know that there’s nothing I can do differently that will forestall the possibility of another premature baby.  I felt very alone when Abigail was born early because I didn’t know anyone else who had the experience we did.  And then I was shocked, later, to learn that there are many who experience what we did, and there was no explanation given to them either.   

During the three days we spent in the hospital before her birth, we were visited by a team of neonatologists who expressed some concern that her suck-swallow-breathe reflex might not be fully developed, and that her little lungs might not be up to breathing on their own on the outside.  To me, these seemed to be two of the most vital things – breathing and eating – and the doctors didn’t know if she would be able to do either on her own.  We were prepared for interventions (a polite phrase for machines and tubes and other unmentionables) to help her with these basic tasks.  Abigail was born a hefty 4lbs 12 oz, and spent 2 weeks in the NICU while she was watched for apnea spells, learned to eat on her own, was treated for jaundice, and showed that she could maintain her body weight and temperature on her own.  But really, we were lucky in that, almost immediately after her birth, we knew she was basically healthy and just needed some time to learn how to eat without the help of a tube, catch some rays to reduce her orangey juandiced glow, and get bigger and stronger.  We always knew she would be coming home (but two weeks still feels like forever), and that wasn’t the case with many of the tiny, sick babies that Abigail shared the NICU with.  And I feel so much for those parents, that I can’t help but want to do something for them, so I occasionally use this space to talk about preemies because it happens more often than you think, and those parents and babies need support more than you know.   We were incredibly lucky, in part because we had great medical care, Abigail had top-shelf doctors and nurses, and we had the support of our family and friends.  No one plans for a premature or low-birth weight baby, but when you have one the people who surround you are critical to how you deal with it – some people are amazing, and others don’t do much, either because they don’t know how to handle the situation or can’t be bothered. Or because the simply don’t know what help they could be, when the truth is any support is appreciated.  We were lucky, and continue to be lucky in all the people who love Abigail and care for her. 

Our little monster and her dime bag of soothers.

I write this blog because it amuses me, hopefully others enjoy it, and it’s a place that I can express myself (sort of) freely.  It gives me an outlet for my ideas and opinions, and a place to share information about my life and issues I care about.  Sometimes I feel like I need to step off my soapbox, get off my high horse, and cease the sermon, but at the same time writing about things I’m interested in, or things that affect my life, enables me to work out feelings (oh gawd, I’m talking about my feelings again) about things that have happened, and if there’s something I have  the feelings about,  it’s the birth of my daughter.  So I write about it, hoping that in writing and thinking and putting ideas together, I can sort some things out.  I know the power of words, because they have figured so strongly in my life as an avid reader, researcher, and writer.  This is something I have always hoped to pass along to any baby of mine  – my love of words, and a thorough knowledge of them and the importance they can have in one’s life. 

Now that her mama has used her words, I will let Abigail use hers.  Here’s my post, as originally conceived:

The explosion of vocabulary to come out of my daughter’s mouth lately is a bit shocking.  She’s a parrot and will repeat what you say with enthusiasm (I checked her diaper recently and pronounced it “all clear,” and for a while afterward she would yell  “ALL CLEAR” in her slurry, little girl voice), but she’s also acquired several words that have meaning to her.  I spent weeks, probably months, wondering if “dada” and “mama” actually meant anything for her, or if they were just another collection of sounds she used to develop her pronunciation and exercise her voice.  But now there’s no question, Mama is me, Dada is Erik, Gigi is Gramma (although she says this less frequently lately, preferring to just be physically attached to my mother whenever possible), “Ahmpa” is her Grampa, Opa is Opa, Oma is Oma, and the cats are “Kitty.”  Actually, every animal is “Kitty” with the one odd exception of my parents’ dog, who she calls by name.  And “Kitty” comes out “Keeet-aaaayyy” with a Cartman-like accent.  Sometimes she can be coaxed into saying puppy (“Poh-poh”) but this happens rarely.  Her newest acquisition is “cracker” – actually “crackaaahh” and she sounds eerily like a friend of my husband’s (oh yes, I do mean you, B.).

We were at her swimming lesson a couple of weeks ago and she began bellowing “BALL!  BALL!” (which sounds like “BAAAA! BAAAAA!), and when I looked around I realized she had spotted an orange beach ball clear across the pool.  She also says “Boom” (which comes out sounding like “Poooooom” – actually we’re lucky if she tacks on the end, sometimes it’s just “Pooooo”) when she plays her “let’s sucker my parents into lifting me onto the couch, then repeatedly fall on my butt on purpose and give my parents a heart attack because I might fall OFF the couch and bash my head game,” (for the record, it’s only happened once and not on MY watch) and she says “okay” but I don’t think she knows what that one means.  My mom has recently taught her “tata” and “more” (sounds like “moe?”), and I’m going to punch the delightful individual who taught her “Nananananoooo!”  We were hoping to put off her use of the word “NO” for a while longer.   And there are a bunch of “words” she says regularly that we don’t recognize, but they clearly mean something to her.  Many of these sound inquisitive, but we still have no clue.  She says “papa” but we don’t know who or what that is.  In the non-verbal area she claps and waves and throws a ball and plays peek-a-boo and hide and seek and points at things she wants, (oh, and now she WALKS, which is so awesome I can’t even begin to to tell you) but I’m finding the words freaking fantastic lately.  Although recently I taught her to high five, and throw her hands in the air like she just don’t care and yell “Tah Dah”, and that’s pretty fantastic too.

I’m excited about her expanding vocab for the obvious reasons – my kid is starting to communicate verbally, it’s exciting to see her develop, so on, so forth.  But it’s also exciting to me because I have high hopes that Abigail will be a reader, like her mom and dad, and love words as much as I do.  I hope she’ll appreciate the intrinsic beauty of a well-crafted sentence.  That she’ll read passages in books and then will re-read them for the sheer pleasure of experiencing that combination of syllables again.  And I can hear people yelling “NERD” at their computers as they read this.  But I love words, and love their weight and significance and power.

That’s why I think names are important.  We didn’t pick Abigail’s name at random – we gave it a lot of thought but ended up settling on names that we had first considered very early in my pregnancy, before we knew she was a she (well, I knew, everyone else was a doubter).  We chose the names that we loved right away.  We intentionally did not choose family names from either side, and thus dodged the political minefield that would represent.  My theory is that, in most cases, you can’t name a child after a family member without causing waves somewhere.  Unless that family member is already dead, and then people are less likely to cause a fuss for fear of looking like heartless jerks.  We chose names that should serve our daughter well from childhood (when the diminutive Abby is used a lot) to womanhood.  She may not have the most original/unusual/wackadoo Moon Unit Zappa name, but I think her names are beautiful and represent who she is, and who we are.  She has a hyphenated last name, and again this was not unintentional.  Her last name is both of her parents – it is her heritage, and I was thrilled when I realized that her dad was perfectly fine with the idea of giving her both our last names.  And if she grows up and wants to marry someone who also has a hyphenated last name, they will figure it out.  Seriously, you have no idea how many times that scenario has been proposed to me: what if she wants to marry someone else with a double-barrelled last name, and what will she do then?  HUH?  Seriously, she’ll figure it out and pare it down to one, or combine two, or she’ll be the four-last-named wonder freak.   WHATEVER.  This does not concern me overly much.  I hope she likes her name when she gets older, but maybe she won’t. 

I do hope that she’ll embrace her names, and embrace words generally, and reading, and want to be well-spoken and well-read.  I will do what I can to influence that, and we try to read to her whenever she’ll sit still long enough to allow us to get through a page or two (she’s a master page-turner but doesn’t often have the patience to sit through being read a whole book).  She already has a million books in her room, and in her toybox…the wonderful thing about having a child is getting to re-visit children’s literature, and I love it when people give her books, because it usually says something about what books they read as a kid.  I’ve always been a reader, and still remember the books that influence me when I was younger.  Some of my most vivid childhood reads happened in grade school – I tore through the Anne of Green Gables series when I was in grade six, read the entire Narnia series at least three times, and fell in love with Madeleine L’Engle.   The Anne of Green Gables series was loaned to me by a much-beloved teacher (hi Ms. Dickson!).   I could do a whole post on the teachers who influenced my love of reading and learning – the sweet Mrs. Tompka in grade one, my grade four teacher Mrs. Wood, who would read to us from a series about a family with several children having the most amazing adventures in places like medieval castles (could this have been the Bobsey Twins?  I would give anything to remember the titles of these books, I loved them) , my most favourite Ms. Dickson, Mr. Irvine in high school, my thesis advisors in university…  I know now that a love of books is taught.  There are countless books I want to share with my daughter, countless experiences that take place between the pages of two covers.  Books are what taught me that anything is possible.

So, what was your favourite book as a kid (or, your favourite kid’s book as an adult)?  And do you know what your first word was?



  1. I read, and re-read, the Cherry Ames series. When I was in Grade 7, and starting a new school, I had strep throat three times (they eventually figured out I was a carrier) and bronchitis once. So, I was at home a lot. My mother went to the Leaside Public Library and brought me home a Cherry Ames – she’d read them as a little girl, which tells you something about their vintage. Cherry was a Nancy-Drew-type figure, except she was a nurse, and the books started during the Second World War, and lasted until the ’60s. Anyway, I collect them in spurts – God bless online used book dealers – and every now and then pull “Cherry Ames, Army Nurse” or “Cherry Ames, Camp Nurse” off the shelf. While she’s hardly a feminist for the 21st C, unlike a lot of young women in girls books, she was never paired with “the one” (eg. Ned Nickerson) – she dates a doctor in one book, or a camp counsellor the next. And, you know, it was the age of powdering your nose …

  2. My first word was the F-word. No, really it was. My mother was a social worker in a state home and they swore almost constantly there. So my first word was the F-word.

    And thank you for sharing your story.

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