February 8, 2009

Farewell to Bada

This morning, in response to some earnest whimpers, I walked into Evie's room. She was lying on her tummy under a blanket, looking snuggly, but sans pacifier.

She raised her head to look at me. "Evie binkie?"

I grabbed a green Soothie from the backup stash in her pajama drawer, placed it in her mouth, and she quickly put her head back down and went back to sleep. It was a fairly ordinary interaction, but I couldn't help thinking of what has been lost.

We've called her pacifiers binkies since we first introduced them, when she was two weeks old. Shortly after her first birthday, when she started discovering words, she named her pacifier "Dabadap." Dabadap was common parlance for months, and soon was truncated to the middle of the name, "Bada," with a heavy accent on the second syllable.

Motivated by our shared reverence for the English language, Sam and I have made a habit of pronouncing words properly, repeating Evie's toddler phrases with our grammatically correct interpretation of her intended message. We're not necessarily correcting her, but rather letting her know that she has been understood, reinforcing her efforts to master new words, phrases, and linguistic constructs. "Binkie" may not be listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it's a word that we expect her peers and daycare providers to easily understand, while "Bada" is pure Evie-speak.

Evie began constructing sentences the week of Christmas. Her first intentional sentence, "Grandma is sleepy dog," was uttered at Babi's house, when she was reminiscing about the oft-sleeping spaniel at her Grandma's in St. Cloud. Or perhaps "sleepy dog" referred to Grandma herself, since in Evie's world most anyone who is out of sight is likely to be sleeping. We weren't sure of the exact meaning, but we marked the milestone as both her first sentence, and our first indication that she pondered what other people might be doing in her absence.

In the weeks since, we have witnessed an explosion of new sentences, words, and topics of conversation. Evie can rattle off the names of her daycare classmates (who are often, in her estimation, sleeping), she can accurately describe the occurrences in her day-to-day life ("Yogurt all gone," "Mommy go outside"), and she can point out Cookie Monster, Big Bird, and her favorite fictional friend, Elmo.

Like Elmo, Evie speaks of herself in the third person, using her name often. Imperfect but clear sentences like "Evie more apple juice" and "Evie go bath bubble shower" allow her to communicate her wants and needs quite effectively.

All of this is very exciting, of course, and I'm proud of my clever, talkative little girl. But with each new discovery, the charming mispronunciations of last month fade from memory. Evie doesn't call people sleepy dogs anymore; she knows that dogs are dogs, and people are just sleepy. She calls her shoes "shoes," having outgrown the adorable phonic inversion of "ooshe" that Sam and I still say to each other in nostalgic moments.

And now, her pacifier is just a binkie, like those of so many other children.

Evie's pronunciation is far from perfect; she still calls her vitamins "Banya," her humidifier "Fire," and her aunts Kirsten and Emily "Kitten" and "Minnow." But I'm coming to realize that, with each new word she masters, her special Evie language is closer to extinction. It's a bittersweet change, because one of the hardest things about watching your children grow up is the realization that the newborn, the infant, the toddler - each of these people that your child is - ultimately disappears to time. I'll never hold my tiny, pocket-sized baby Evie again. She's gone forever, and soon my malaprop-spouting toddler will be, too.

The best I can do is remember this, document it on video and in writing and in my shared memories with Sam.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, so please be forgiving if you hear this self-confessed linguistic elitist call a necklace a "neckie" or a turtle "toto." Evie may be growing up fast, but Mommy needs a little bit longer to savor the moment.

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