There’s nothing quite as heartbreaking as the look in your children’s eyes when you fail them. It’s a look I’ve been seeing a lot lately.

As Lara mentioned in the most recent state of the union, Emmeline’s language skills are skyrocketing. Her cadence is reminiscent of Jon Lovitz as Tonto, but the complexity of the thoughts she’s able to string together grows by leaps and bounds each day. While in the bathroom recently, she suddenly jabbed her finger up at the window and said “Cuhtans! Mom. Made. Dose!” I wasn’t sure which aspect was the most astonishing: The fact that Emme knew the word “curtains”; the fact that she could use it in a full sentence; or the fact that she somehow knew that Lara and Grandma had specifically created the curtains for the room (and this was two months after the curtains had first arrived).

But while Emme’s mind doesn’t miss a thing, her mouth still needs some work. The differences between the words “truck” and “clock” are negligible, as are the ones between “snack” and “Jack.” She’s also developed an adorable little lisp that further obscures her diction. This has led to several impasses in our communication, a number that seems to grow each day.

It wouldn’t be so bad except that after repeating back a mystery word to her several times, I can see the moment where she loses hope. There is an almost imperceptible shift in her face. Even when I try to hide my lack of comprehension, she’s not fooled. And she looks so sad. It’s even worse when I see her trying to hide her disappointment and failing to keep her smile from falling. Sometimes, she’ll even pretend that my guess at what she is saying is correct. She’ll take a pause that’s slightly too long, then say “Yeah!” even though it’s clear that I’m not getting it right.

Other times, though, she takes no measure to conceal her frustration. She’ll literally roll her eyes before walking away to the playroom. It’s hilarious and damning at the same time.

It makes me feel terrible, and I do anything I can to avoid it. I’ve repeatedly asked her to show me what she’s talking about, but either she doesn’t understand what I mean or the concept she’s after is not easily identified.

Which is why it’s so gratifying to us both when we finally manage to connect. We both shout and get big smiles on our faces, thrilled that father and daughter are finally on the same page. In some cases, though, there is a relief that is just for Mommy and Daddy. I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally figure out after several months that Emme’s mantra of “Kill!” was actually “Tickle!”

Jack is an even tougher nut to crack. He’s finally starting to use new words (“tutu” and “go” are the most recent additions), but he still uses “un” for 97% of the world’s objects. It doesn’t help that he also uses “un” for “yes” and for every number—”One, two, THREE!” is “Un, un, UN!” Ask him to show you what he’s talking about, and he’ll start whirling around, pointing to a different object every three seconds.

I wish that the pair of them knew Charades so that they could clue me in a little better to what they want: “How many syllables, Emme? Category, Jack? Sounds like?” Instead, they come up to me with wild eyes saying “Please” over and over again.

“Please what?” I reply.

“Peeze, Da,” they respond.

“No, I mean what do you want? Thank you for saying ‘please,’ but I don’t know what you’re asking for.”


I hate the thought that they think I’m willfully keeping something from them, especially after all the time we’ve invested in getting them to say “please” in the first place. But I’m trying to take it in stride. I’ve started thinking of it as training for when they’re teenagers. By then, they’ll have a robust vocabulary, but I suspect we’ll still be speaking different languages.

jane f hightower - May 6, 2013 - 4:48 pm

I so well remember this awful feeling of failure and desperation, trying to figure out what the word in question might be. After many tries to get Mom to recognize the word, Andy used to have the most heartbreaking reaction. His face would fall, he’d look down at the floor and whisper, “Ne’er mind.” And slump off, totally dejected.

Richard Ragsdale - July 26, 2013 - 7:47 pm

I feel ya, man. Miss V has been known to dissolve into full-on tears when I fail to understand a lengthy dissertation.