Dear Lily June,
As a lover of language, it is beyond thrilling to me that you’ve begun babbling so early, even in your sleep. As a lover of sleep, it is beyond excruciating that you seem to find your voice most strongly when you’re lain to rest in your bassinet. As they say, though, Lily, beggars can’t be choosers.
It’s enough to drive a woman to the Romantics, and their nightmarishly catchy tune “Talking in Your Sleep.” You’ll have to forgive some incredibly sexist visual rhetoric while the band saunters through a dreamy crowd of lingerie-clad sleepers and a lyric set that comes off a bit stalkerish; it was, after all, only 1984, a time far more barbaric than yours, when babies like your mother were still being born…
You at least come by your sleep-talking, also known as somniloquy, honestly. When I was a child, I would wake my mother with my nonstop blathering. She once rushed into my room, expecting a wide-awake little girl who was afraid of monsters in the closet or some such cliché. Imagine her surprise when I began to unravel a long and convoluted narrative about a fiddler crab that was crawling on me, trying to pinch my bellybutton shut. Imagine her greater surprise when, the next morning, I couldn’t remember a single of the seemingly hundred words I’d expended on the tale. She brings it up fondly now, still wondering if I put her on as a toddler, trying to pull the “blankie” over her eyes.
To this day, I can’t remember a word I said, but that’s common with sleep-talkers. Your dad, still in the throes of his own sleep disorder, once shared a similar experience with me.
Things had been tense that day; I had been talking about leaving the grad school we both attended. I was tired, heartbroken at my lack of talent as a writer, and we’d discussed what might happen to our relationship if I headed for more northern pastures. We’d both been in long distance things before we found each other, and we knew the strain of trying to make the heart commute.
We lay down for the evening, exhausted from carrying the weight of such a laden discussion. As I’ve told you, I’m a light sleeper, and the sound of your father turning over was enough to startle me. What came next would startle me to my core.
Your father, fully facing me but with his eyes closed, pulled me into a passionate embrace and gave me what was, even presently, one of the best kisses of my entire life. He murmured in his dreams, “Not going anywhere now, are ya?” Then he promptly rolled over and “went back to sleep.”
Don’t believe me? You’re in good company. Neither does your father. But I tell you, kid; I’ve never once in my life dreamed of anything that sweet.
On the day we found out you were a girl, Little Lily, I was worried. Your father is more the nurturer in the family, believe it or not, and we were both expecting you to be a boy. (Later, during the pregnancy, I would dream of you walking down the street with your baby brother, a baby we’d call “Pickle” after we’d already affectionately called you, before we knew your sex or name, “Peanut.”) Your dad turned to me, though, that day when your sex was still a fresh thought on my mind and said, “Now you’ll finally have a friend.”
Oooh, I couldn’t have been more offended! He went on to drive his foot deeper down his throat as he tried to clarify. “I just mean you’ll have someone you can talk to.” It reminded me of the time he told me I was loud or any of the million times my mother, worn out from my incessant chattering, would say, “Alyssa, I love you, but you have to stop.” I never did seem to grow tired of the sound of my talk.
Language has been my saving grace, but I’m more comfortable with the page than with people in person. If I know someone, I can become like you, a non-stop babbler. But if I don’t have so much as a friend in the room, I clam up and become a Casper. I think of the perfect things to say only as I’m exiting a gathering. The French have a phrase for this– l’espirit de l’escalier, the wit of the staircase–for when your reply arrives only as you are departing.
So I guess I should have given your father the benefit of the doubt. He’s my best friend, but a quiet man, and with the way I talk his ear off to get out all the social tendencies I bottle up IRL, he probably needs a second pair of ears to share the burden with.
The poor man will need four ears now that you’ve started burbling. Your talk, known formally as babbling or twaddling, is the first step in language acquisition, the first vocal tumbles toward conversationally strutting (so to speak). Because we have roughly nine months before you utter any real vocabulary, we’re for now subjected to a stream of coo’s and ooh’s that make the world seem newly wondrous to us.
Incidentally, one of my first words, I hate to admit, was not very scholarly. It was “butt,” little Lily.
My mother, unbeknownst to us both, had set me down while gardening right, smack, on the top of an ant hill. The ants poured into my diaper while she was doing some weeding, and frantically, I found my voice. “Butt! Butt!” went my high-pitched shriek. But she couldn’t understand me. “But? But what?!”
When I started reaching behind me, she ran me towards the sink, thinking I’d soiled myself. Removing the “nappy,” she located the trouble–the army of ants that had invaded my derriere. Butt what, indeed.
Your dad and I attempt now to plant seeds into your blossoming tongue. Say “I love you, Daddy,” I intone, fruitlessly. Say “I love you, Momma,” he implores futilely. We both know by linguistics alone, “dada” is far easier to pronounce, and so you’re likely to look up at your quieter parent with a name before you can ever address me.
But I can wait, Little Lily. I have these letters, and I have memories. There was a time, too, when I could barely be understood. I would plead with my mother that the family should “go Woz-Mo.” Only my sister, “Warren” (i.e. Loren), could translate for me.
As my mother sat scratching her head, my sibling would exclaim exasperatedly, “Mom, she wasn’t to go to Ross Park Mall” (the local shopping hole). A master of the finer art of baby-speak, she knew when her youngest daughter meant her lips as she was mouthing “mup.” She was wise enough to laugh as her middle son pronounced that an enormous belch was “a fart through [his] mouth.” These are the sacred truths I have, someday, to look forward to.
Until then, you’ll subject me to an endless collection of babbles and burbles and coo’s and oh’s and ooh’s that are awe-inspiring all on their own in their reminiscence of Kerouac’s On the Road:
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”
P.S. If you know where the title to this letter came from, you’ve spent way too much time talking movies with your Mama!
- “Firmin Baes – Doux rêves” by Firmin Baes – Art Renewal Center. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Firmin_Baes_-_Doux_r%C3%AAves.jpg#/media/File:Firmin_Baes_-_Doux_r%C3%AAves.jpg
- “Brown lady” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brown_lady.jpg#/media/File:Brown_lady.jpg
- “Martin Van Maele – La Grande Danse macabre des vifs – 01” by Martin van Maële – La Grande Danse macabre des vifs. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Martin_Van_Maele_-_La_Grande_Danse_macabre_des_vifs_-_01.jpg#/media/File:Martin_Van_Maele_-_La_Grande_Danse_macabre_des_vifs_-_01.jpg