The irony of my love of language

baby lying on his back holding a stuffed dinosaur

By Leah Moore

As a young girl playing in my basement, I used to set up each stuffed animal on top of the ping pong table, all in a row, to give them the results of their spelling quiz. Beary could never spell “because” correctly and would have to stay after school to get some more help. Words were never his thing. Luckily for him, they were mine.

I couldn’t get enough of them.

I wrote songs. Terrible, terrible songs. When two people are very close, they’re friends. They have friendship. Carole King, I wasn’t, but my mom was a big fan.

I wrote stories. My seventh grade English teacher told me the 87-page, hand-written, double-spaced story about a woman looking for her daughter was a bit excessive—but it showed promise.

I wrote letters. A 102-page ongoing note in 11th grade. Perhaps I should have taken more notes on American History and less on the boy in the front row, but it was good practice.

I loved words. I would use thousands of them a day. In fact, most of my family did—my poor father rarely got to speak more than five a night. How was school today, girls? I floated through my uneventful childhood and found every opportunity I could to practice them. On paper. With sign-language. In short stories. Then, I borrowed other people’s words: Shakespeare. Frost. Bring on the words. I breathed words every day like oxygen. They were on the papers I graded, the books I read, the grocery list on my fridge. They were everywhere.

Except in the mouth of my three-year-old child.

We found words in new places. They hide in smiles, dance moves, and signs. They sneak in with the first sounds of “ma-ma” and “more.” They come out with pointing and listening and just knowing. And each day, we wait and wonder. Would there be a new word? Did she understand ours? Would she ever ask me where she left her shoes? Would she remind me to pick up more milk at the grocery store? Will she yell as she runs down the soccer field?

And I don’t know.

And for the woman who was shaped by words, who teaches them every single day, focusing on the power of vocabulary, the derivation of a term, the perfect synonym—as it turns out, maybe you don’t need them at all.

I’ve found something much more powerful. Something that encapsulates pride and fear, strength and temerity, sadness and joy, love and comfort. Being a mother who has had to learn how to speak to your child who cannot speak.

And when they create the word for that, let me know.

Leah Moore is a high school English and theater teacher who believes in the power of sharing stories. Leah writes to celebrate the joy found in the unexpected in her blog www.lovingyoubig.com. She is working on her first novel, Loving You Big: One family embracing the unexpected.

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