Sometimes it’s hard to know when it’s time to stop spelling. On the other hand, sometimes it becomes quite obvious.
I was recently watching TV when a commercial came on for a tablet. I don’t remember which one it was, so the commercial must not have been very effective. What I remember is the situation. A small child was playing with the tablet, and his parents were watching. The dad was concerned that this might not be a good idea, and he and the mom were discussing it. As parents of small children do in sensitive situations, they were spelling some of the critical words, but the dad got tired of it.
“Can we stop spell talking now?” he said.
“OK…A-Y,” said the mom.
Every mother thinks her child is special, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Christian was special from the beginning. When the nurse brought him to me for the first time, he peered at me with big, blue eyes filled with a wisdom far beyond his minutes. He seemed to be saying Don’t I know you from somewhere? He knew my voice from the beginning, following the sound of it with his eyes when someone else was holding him.
He continued to exhibit his keen mind by figuring out tricky Fisher-Price toys, identifying facial parts, and interacting with others in complicated games like “Patty Cake” and “Where’s the Baby?” The real revelation came when he was about 16 months old. He had been watching Sesame Street and The Electric Company for about 8 months. I had to give up my soap operas and switch to PBS when I noticed how much attention he paid to the television.
For a while, all he did was watch, but one night all that changed. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when he appeared in the doorway, breathless with excitement.
“Awwww!” he said.
“What?” That wasn’t in his regular vocabulary.
“Awwww! Awwww!” he said, looking down the hall toward his room.
“Show me,” I said, drying my hands on a dish towel.
He took off a fast as his little legs could carry him. He grabbed one of his soft, vinyl-covered alphabet blocks.
“Awwww!” he said with a wide grin.
He was holding the block with the letter “R” on it. On further investigation, I discovered that he could identify all the other letters, too. It didn’t make a lot of difference immediately. He identified the picture of an “R” the same way he identified a picture of a puppy or an apple. But it was the beginning.
As quick as he was in a lot of ways, he was slow in one way. He didn’t want to give up his nighttime bottle. He was quite willing to drink from a cup during the day, but when it was time for him to go to bed, he wanted his bottle of milk. It was probably partly my fault. He was a laid-back child, easy to take along. Whether we went to a friend’s house or a drive-in movie, as long as I had the magic bottle, it was all good. The trick was to get the bottle into the diaper bag without him seeing it. As soon as he laid eyes on it, he wanted it, and if I gave it to him too early, I was left with no leverage when he really got sleepy. In addition, bottle or “bodden” was one of his favorite words, so we resorted to spelling.
“Would you grab a couple of extra diapers for me please?”
“Sure, and I’ll get his Pooh Bear. Did you get his b-o-t-t-l-e?”
And so it went, until one night as I put some snacks into the diaper bag, Christian appeared in the kitchen doorway again. He had Pooh Bear’s ear clutched in one hand and his favorite pillow under his arm.
“You have my l-t-t?” he said.
Yeah, it was probably time to stop spell talking.