It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a last child in possession of a big family, must be in want of some individual attention from his mother.
Tobias suffers from last-child syndrome. A phrase I've coined just now to apply only and specifically to the matter of language development. It applies elsewhere (OK - everywhere!) no doubt, but I'm not inclined to shoulder a weighty guilt trip today.
I, like most first-time mothers, spent hours talking to Esme. We pointed at trees, pumpkins, dogs and bugs; this and that; and that and this on slow walks through the neighborhood. We pored over books and catalogues. We played with puzzles. We took sign language classes.
Esme's best friend sang "Frosty the Snowman," spoke in full sentences and knew over 100 words at 15 months. Esme definitely didn't sing and she wasn't any where close to sentences but she could speak. Some. And she knew as many signs as her pal had words.
Mama did her job.
Then came Desmond and Josephine.
I may have done my job with a little less gusto but I had full-time help from Esme. While Desmond and Josephine were still young, she insisted that others call her "teacher," a position she took most seriously.
She taught them signs and read them books and they talked on time.
"Uma eat sticks," Desmond said sometime around 15 months.
"I see boons," Josephine said at about a year and a half.
Mama did her job. With a little help.
It's not like Tobias isn't talking. He has about a dozen words under his belt: Mama, Papa, night-night, bath, uh-oh, no and others.
But that's because the boy is resourceful and fends for himself remarkably well. Not because we taught him anything. In fact, I remember the moment I threw up my hands in exhausted frustration.
Remember my helpful little teacher? She turned saboteur. And conscripted her siblings in her efforts to muddle her poor brother.
At mealtime, when Tobias seemed ready for seconds, I'd make the sign for "more" and repeat the word aloud. Esme would make an entirely different, altogether made-up sign. Josephine would make a third. Desmond a fourth.
Tobias looked at each of us as if we balanced unicorns on our head.
Tobias would finish his food and I would move my hands down in a sweeping motion signing "all done." Esme would sweep her hands upward. Josephine would throw hers to the side. Desmond would shake his like a loon.
My little cut-ups continued on the few occasions I'd try to teach Tobias the names of animals and the sounds they make.
"What does a cow say?" I'd ask him.
"Quack quack," went one.
"Bah! Ha ha ha," went another.
"Grrr!" the third said.
Poor Tobias. What does a cow say?
I gave up.
But yesterday I found myself alone with Tobias while the rest of the house slept and I seized the very rare moment to try to teach him a word.
Tobias: (Holds a cup of water, clambers up and down a chair.)
Tobias: (Puts the water cup in his mouth. Drinks. Stares at me sideways over the cup.)
Tobias: "Psstt." (Puts water cup back in mouth but can't really drink because he's grinning so wide.)
Tobias: (Smirks). "PSSSSSSSSSTTTTT!" (Smirks again)
Me: (Remind myself that I'm the adult.) "Water."
Tobias: (Looks out the window and purposefully ignores me.) "Psstt."
Me: "Ok. Never mind."
Tobias: (Looks back at me. Makes sure I'm looking at him too.) "WAH."
Obviously, the boy knows a thing or two. About words. And sabotage.