I have a cousin, third cousin, a young kid, and the extended family has been worried / not worried about him. He had been developing his toddler abilities a little off the bell curve. For a long time, he didn’t talk.
Nobody knew why.
He just didn’t seem interested in talking.
Personally, I’m totally behind this kid keeping silent. Talking is a racquet, kid. Once you start, you never stop. They get you hooked by just teaching you a few words. Easy ones. Useful, even. You’re a wide-eyed tyke, who thinks, ‘This is handy. Now I can finally ask for one of those chocolate chip orbs they constantly pass to each other.’
And you think, ‘Words good.’
Years later, you’re fighting with a lover at 1:00 a.m., rehashing the same argument from six hours earlier but now having spent six hours simmering in angry silence, it’s even more furious, and the ocean of words spit between the two of you will flood the room, drowning you both, and you think, what kind of idiot invented talking?
It’s safer in the world of no-words.
So this third cousin, call him Buck, was not vocalizing or showing interest in words. He wasn’t deaf. Seemed like a smart kid. His parents took him to specialists who advised strategies and non-verbal games to evoke the magic of speech.
As extended family bystanders, we worried, and reassured ourselves that kids develop differently. If he didn’t feel like talking, okay. We also did not worry. Whether Buck spoke (or not) might not matter.
That is to say, we already loved Buck with big hearts.
Perhaps we loved him even more in his silence, if that were possible. He was a miracle baby, and we thrilled he stayed on earth. Whether he spoke or not, we loved that kid. At family gatherings, Buck was like electric lightning–racing constantly–crashing into your leg, laughing as he grinned up at you. But he couldn’t be bothered to stop for conversation, as he was off to explore somewhere else.
His parents were baffled where his energy came from, this bright yellow Tonka truck of unstoppableness, this child with the energy of seven kids crammed into one.
We love Buck.
It’s strange, loving second and third cousins who you rarely get to see. Many, many years ago, we held those second cousins when they were infants. Demanded to see their missing teeth and begged to hear them play the violin or sing or dance or tell a story. They often complied at family gatherings, Christmas at Aunt Mary Beth’s or Thanksgiving at Aunt Barbara’s.
But then they grew up.
They were once our yellow Tonka trucks, racing through my mom and dad’s home on Easter with soon-to-be-spilled soda, laughing and chattering and then suddenly turning so unbelievably shy they could do nothing but bite the tip of their finger, because that’s all you can do sometimes when you’re a kid, is gently bite the tip of your finger.
When one second cousin produced her own professional singing CD at the tender age of fifteen, we all gossiped about her for months, admiring her talent, discussing her next steps. Will she take her band on the road? Record contract? That Thanksgiving, we played one of her songs after dinner and she was so embarrassed by the attention she fled the room.
We couldn’t stop ourselves. We love her. (In fact, two days ago, I listened to her music again on the way to work, singing along at the top of my lungs.)
Though we don’t see them as often, the second and third cousins, we want to know the details of their lives. See fresh pictures. Hold their kids. When I speak with mom, part of every conversation is devoted to family updates. She provides what she heard from her Aunt Barbara who heard from Anita who is visiting her parents while her husband is away. Where is he you ask? Interesting story. Apparently for his next research project…and so the family stories unfurl. The news. Who visited whom. New jobs.
Eventually, I get most of the details.
But we miss the day to day victories in their lives and that’s sad. They’re having lives. They’re having friend-filled, career-rich lives. They watch Netflix and have outrageous game nights, do laundry on Saturdays. Good for them. But hey. The older generation who adored you from the beginning of your life, well, we miss you. We miss your big smiles. We miss your insane energy, running constantly from room to room. We’re glad you grew up so beautifully, but we miss you.
I spoke with mom the other night and got some family news.
Guess who started talking?
“Well, this is what I heard,” Mom said. “He says ‘no‘ really easily but they were struggling teaching him the word ‘yes.’ It’s very common in any kid to learn yes later than no, but he kinda refused. Buck kept saying ‘cerna.’”
I said, “What does that mean?”
“Well, nobody knew. He just said, cerna. Cerna. They couldn’t get him to say yes.”
I waited for the rest of the story. Mom’s a good story teller.
“They worried a little,” Mom talked a little slower to keep me in suspense, “Wondering if he was inventing his own words, his own language. What if he didn’t talk normal English? What if that word, cerna, revealed some mental problems ? But they listened more carefully to what he was saying and it turns out he wasn’t saying cerna exactly. He was saying the words so quickly. He was saying soo nu.”
“How is that any better?”
Mom said, “They realized that their nanny, I think she was from another country, that word, au pair, maybe. I don’t know. I heard this from Mary Beth who talked to Barbara yesterday, so I’ll call Barbara and ask her. Anyway, the au pair had an accent.”
“Yes,” I said, a little impatiently.
Mom said, “This nanny never said yes, when she agreed with something. She always said the same two words. ‘Sure enough.’ Buck has been saying sure enough. Cerna. Cerna! He’s fine!”
We laughed. Love that kid!
“Sure enough,” Mom said and she laughed happily. “We’re adopting it as our family slogan. I think we should. We all just start saying ‘sure enough’ instead of yes.’”
After years of playing with cousins and second cousins, you end up feeling very attached to people who do the discourteous service of growing up and moving away, permitting you to only glimpse the lives they have carved for themselves. You end up missing them more than you thought you would. You wonder about their kids, their struggles, and reminisce about when they were tiny little balls of energy.
But is it worth it? Loving those family members you now only see twice a year?