Year 01 | Week 28

Dear Kaylee,

Over the past week or so, you’ve begun to indiscriminately babble the word mama. You don’t direct this word toward any particular person, and you only get around to saying it when you’re upset about something, but the word is there. It comes slow and hard, usually along with a quivering lip and heaping helping of tears. “Ma-ma,” you stutter, before crying some more. Your mother and I feel guilty admitting this, but you are impossibly cute when you cry. And that word, that uttering of that precious word, makes you cuter still.

Is it really a word, though? That’s what I find myself asking as I type this letter to you. The most useful of Merriam-Webster’s many definitions for the word “word” is: “a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolizes and communicates a meaning usually without being divisible into smaller units capable of independent use”. Sure, there’s another definition which claims that a word is simply “something that is said,” but I think that might be a cop-out. So, if a word is a series of speech sounds that symbolize and communicate meaning, is your babbled “mama” really a word, at all? Is there any meaning behind it, or is it just a sound you’re making?

I prefer to think that there is some meaning behind it. You might not be referring to your mother when you say it, or even to the idea of parent or caregiver in general, which is how I understand most babies first employ the word. But you do mean something when you say it. Perhaps you didn’t mean anything the first few times, but, now that you’ve seen how we respond to it, I think you know that babbling “ma-ma” while crying adds a sense of urgency to your communications. Crying is asking for comfort; crying while babbling ma-ma is asking for comfort right now.

I’m probably totally off my rocker here, but that’s just me. Putting thought into things where deep thought is perhaps unnecessary—that’s my modus operandi. In the end, I just think it’s neat that you’ve begun to string together sounds that will eventually have meaning. Assuming they don’t already, of course. As a guy who traffics in words, who loves communication in all its various forms, this part of your development is something I’ve looked forward to since the day we learned you were inside of your mother’s belly, and something I’ll be paying a great deal of attention to as time goes on.

And no, I’m not upset that you didn’t say da-da first.

Love, Dad

LettersE. Christopher Clark