Watching my niece’s daughter Layla learning language has triggered some very early memories. One time when I was not yet speaking, my father said to my mother “I think he understood that.” I looked at them like they were crazy – of course I understood. How could they doubt it.
Actually there was never a time I didn’t think I understood. I didn’t know the words people were saying, but I didn’t know that they were words. I just assumed we were all vocalizing in the same way. I did see my parents huddle sometimes and realized they were having some kind of communication that I wasn’t a part of, and knew I didn’t understand what they were up to, but I never imagined they were speaking a language that I hadn’t learned yet. I just didn’t have concepts like that.
Another pretty specific memory is blurting out a sound that somehow my parents took as significant. They were thrilled and started pressing me to repeat it. Maybe they were saying something like “say Momma, say Momma.” All I know is that they wouldn’t let up, and I was getting frustrated – not able to really know what they wanted. Finally I shouted out a sound that I knew to be a strong form of non-compliance. I thought they would be really mad at me, but I needed them to stop hounding me. But suddenly they were happy, and hugging me, like I had done a great thing. I had no idea why, but was happy for the attention and happy the ordeal was over, so just enjoyed it, even though feeling a bit confused.
Sometime decades later my sister Suzie said “Mom used to tell everybody that Gary’s first word was “no.” Thinking way back, all this came to mind. Seems to fit.