The Littlest Birds

I just got off the phone with my youngest, the defiant little cherub who has been reminding us that he will do things in his own sweet time and we can just go ahead and get used to it already because he will not be rushed thank you very much.  For years, his communication method has been a sort of pantomime, a series of simple gestures and modified signs that have served to communicate his basic wants and needs.  He loved to babble and would speak nonsense words all day, but the moment we urged him to repeat a real word, he would bristle and refuse and stomp his little foot in anger.

But today, I had a conversation with him over the phone.  This is big, folks!  Our conversation went something like this:

Lincoln: Hai!
Me: Hi, baby!  What are you doing?
Lincoln: {emphatic but unintelligible babble}
Me: Is that right?  Well, are you eating lunch? Did you eat a sandwich?
Lincoln: Yeah, I eat {mumble mumble}
Me:  You did?  And did you eat some fruit?
Lincoln: Yeah, I eat fwoooot.
Me: Wow, that sounds yummy!  Ok, listen, mommy has to go.  Love you! Bye!
Lincoln: Yo, maw! Bai!

Lincoln has abbreviated love you to "yo," which sounds like neither love nor you but is nonetheless the thing he says in response every time we say, "love you."  It's a terrible bit of verbal laziness, I know, but I catch that yo every time he hurls it at me, clasping my hands at my chest as if I've just caught a ball of light and can't imagine releasing it.  I tell him I love him over and over again just to hear him tell me "yo, maw."

I remember after Linc was born, we met our first set of parents of a child with Down syndrome.  I was scared and wanted reassurance, but this mom was more of a doom and gloom sort.  She told me once that her son was finally able to speak a few words.  I was ready for the furious cheer, the finally-my-baby-can-talk celebratory dance, but instead I got a bit of Eeyore looking for his tail.  She said, "Yeah, we had to wait until he was four years old to hear him say 'I love you.'  Can you imagine?"

"No, I can't imagine," I thought, "but I guess I better start imagining it."

Now, I can Eeyore with the best of them, but let me tell you, I did a little dance today while I was talking to my baby on the phone.  I stood in front of my office building, grinning like a dang fool, having a real conversation with my four year old on the phone for the first time.  My feet were stamping Hallelujah! on the pavement and my mouth was laughing Thank You Lord! into the wind.  The windows of countless unseen offices and conference rooms reflected my joy right back at me.  I watched myself as I stood there, iPhone to ear, realizing my little bird can sing.

And I thought about this song, how it tells me the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs...

He's always been our little bird.  He's always been small for his age, always seemed more of a baby than his peers.  And he always loved to be held, clinging to us like a little bird up on its first branch.

It's true there have been days when I have wondered if anyone besides his mamma and daddy would love his little bird song, his rough alto that does not pay homage to pitch or tune or tempo.  When music comes on, he lifts his little beak and raises his little wings, dancing and singing with complete abandon.  It's exuberant and oh-so-endearing to us, but not what most people would call singing.  It's more like happy yelling.

But I can't be worried about whether other people can hear it, the symphony we hear when he opens his mouth.  I can't be all Eeyore about this little guy, not when I can hear his husky voice saying "yo, maw" through the phone.  After all, that rough, halting speech is being funneled into a tiny microphone and ricocheting through space, bouncing off satellites and probably being converted into some digital code, yet still coming through my speaker sounding like the prettiest song I've ever heard.

I say you sing, little bird.  Get those possibly asthmatic lungs pumping, fill that tiny chest, and crow, crow, crow.  We've been waiting to hear your song, and I'm here to tell you that what they say about the littlest birds is true.


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