It was fairly clear from early on that Little Man didn't understand that every person and object he encountered had a name. His first word, a syllable at first, was "ma." Not for "mom," for "more." He learned pretty quickly at preschool that if he wanted more, he needed to touch his fingertips together in front of his chest and say "ma." He would always be rewarded with a cookie, cracker, or his favorite--fruit. And he started saying it in other contexts when I would hold up a vibrating giggle Elmo ball to his belly and then pull it away. I think he said "more" the very first try. But other than that single word at about 18 months, he wasn't looking to me for answers. While he was obviously excited to see me, he never made an attempt at a name. And when people said, "Where's mommy?" he didn't even flinch. He wasn't pointing, either. So I made a book of pictures--just everyday objects such as his highchair, his shoes, a cup, his toy truck, a ball, a book, and me. It had the word written underneath the picture, and we "read" it every day. Multiple times. It was his favorite, really. I would point to the ball picture, sign and say "ball" and hold up an actual ball. Over and over and over again. Eventually he could point to an object from the book if I asked where it was. I would also point to my picture and say "mom" and sign "mom" and take his finger to touch my chest. "Where's mom? Here's mom." I would also sing a song that his teacher sang every morning at school: Where is ___? Where is ___? There he is (point to person). There he is. Only I would substitute "mom" for the student's names. One day after being home sick for 3 days and a weekend and working really hard on the book, we were hanging out in the bedroom before bedtime. He sat in the oversized (pink) lazy boy style chair and I sat on the floor. He pointed to (and touched) the chair and looked at me. "Chair," I said. He touched the blanket. "Blanket," I explained. He did it again. Chair. Blanket. He pointed to me. "Ma." I froze.
"Ma," he did it again.
He pointed to me.
I made him do it three more times before I called my mom to celebrate. I can think of few times when I felt prouder. It wasn't so much about our relationship--I knew that he knew that I was the most important person who provided for him and loved him. I of course felt a swell of contentment, though, having heard the most sought-after word. But mostly I cried because I was teaching him, and it was working. The bonus? He knew my name. And even though he still rarely uses my name to get my attention, my heart melts every time I enter a room and he gleefully shouts "mom!" to announce my arrival.