Oboe and Jem have become adept at essential communication, a stage that I eagerly anticipated and gratefully embraced during their recent five-day sojourn at Grandma’s house. They can declare thirst; demand a hug; ask for a story; announce hunger; and express the need for a comfort object. Just as importantly, they understand just about everything of importance that I want to tell them.
When the boys woke up Monday morning in a different house, they had but one word on their minds: mama. This one word became a litany that I translated as, “Where is our mother, and why are we here?” It accompanied us through the diaper change, dressing, brushing of teeth and the trip to daycare. When we returned at 2:30 p.m. to pick them up, Oboe was pleased to see us and went so far as to say “Grandma! Papa!” Jem was not displeased, but a bit wary and a note of desperate interrogative had entered his tone, “Mama?”
Oboe seems especially interested in improving his verbal skills and although his desire to speak still greatly outstrips his ability, once we returned home, he intensified his efforts to find out what had happened to his mother, father and sister. Pointing to the family photo on display in the living room, Oboe pointed to the missing individuals and looked me straight in the eye, “Mama? Dada? Gigi [Jet]?”
“They went on a trip. You and Jem are staying with Grandma and Papa while they are away, but they’ll come back. Don’t worry, they’ll come back.”
Oboe confirmed his understanding, “Mama back?”
“Yes, mama will come back. You just have to wait. Not today.” Before they went to sleep they were able to talk to their parents and sister on the phone. They both bestowed multiple hugs and wet sloppy kisses on my cellphone as they happily invoked the names of their unseen loved ones. Thereafter, they attended any ring, chime or buzz emanating from my phone with great excitement, “Mama? Dada?” and each day Oboe asked for and received reaffirmation, “Mama back?”
Overall, they handled the situation remarkably well, maintaining a cheerful, cooperative mood and quickly adjusting to the rules of the house. We had a couple of small glitches of course, including the day I put Oboe’s patch on the wrong eye and when we had to wash their hair two days in a row because I turned my back on them while they ate dinner. My relative inexperience with toddler boys was most fully demonstrated when I took Oboe out of the bathtub and began toweling him dry. As he proceeded to void on my shoes, I froze in astonishment. He seemed equally surprised to see me quickly strip off my footgear while hollering, “yuck!”
By Thursday, however, Oboe’s forbearance had reached its limit. When Papa offered to let me take a turn on the treadmill, I accepted and told the boys I’d be right back. Owen’s face crumpled and he burst into sobs. Jem brought him a blanket while I held him tightly and rubbed his back. “It’s okay, buddy! Grandma will stay right here. I’m not going anywhere! You are much, much more important than the treadmill!”
During their call that night, their father said he’d see them tomorrow, causing Owen to utter the longest, clearest word he has spoken in my presence. “Tomorrow? Tomorrow? Tomorrow?”
“Yes, buddy, Mommy and Daddy will be back tomorrow. Not today, but after you come home from school tomorrow.”
To my amazement and delight, Owen remembered the next morning. “Tomorrow?” he said hopefully.
“Yes! It’s tomorrow. You will see Mommy and Daddy today before you go to bed.”
So far, the boys give every indication of growing up to be men of few words. They don’t waste time on extraneous parts of speech. Jem lets his brother do most of the talking for both of them. He seems to realize that Oboe is more easily understood and can get the point across faster, but Jem is always listening and understands every bit as much.
Watching the boys play together is fascinating. They don’t need the English language to understand each other, getting by quite well with a combination of body language, gestures and sounds that are intelligible only to one other. Somehow they have reached a level of truce that allows for sharing single objects between them, such as the water pen that colors only on a special mat, passing it back and forth at an inaudible request.
Jem’s strength is observation. He is the first to recognize patterns and to figure out how things work. When the pen ran out of water, Jem showed me that it needed filling and tried to unscrew the cap. When the boys were finished coloring, he brought it back to me.
Later, Oboe stood at my knee and said, “golar.”
“I don’t know that word. Can you show me what you want?”
Oboe patiently repeated the same word, but Jem, who had been listening to the exchange, joined him and demanded “up!” Once on the couch, he crawled across my body and pointed to the pen, “golar!”
“You want to color?”
The boys smiled at my interpretive abilities and chorused, “yes!” The moment Jem had the pen in his hand, he handed it off to Oboe. If they keep this up, their combined talents will make them a force to be reckoned with one day. Let’s hope they use their powers for good!
On Friday, Oboe squealed with delight when we pulled into the driveway and his mother came out to greet us. “Mama, Mama, Mama!” He let me get him out of the car and took my hand to go meet her. Poor Jem was overcome by the intensity of his feelings and burst into tears the moment he saw her face. Oboe looked at his mother on the other side of the car, attending to Jem and altered course, pulling me toward the house. “Dada!” he said, leaving Jem to receive the comfort of mama first. They take care of each other, these two.