Baby papá agua gracias.
Woo-woo uh-oh hot wow tick-tock pat up hi ok shoes ¡gooooool!
Quack daddy moo cat cold shoes socks eyes shh!
No, that’s not a drunken, New Year’s Eve haiku. Those were your first twenty-five words, as faithfully recorded by yours truly in the back of the little black-and-gold notebook I kept on you this year. They are on my mind tonight as you watch Mickey Mouse, I drink my beloved afternoon coffee, and the last traces of sunlight die away on this last day of 2014, a year to which I hate to bid farewell. After all, this was the year in which you learned to walk, run, and wear a full, upside-down bowl of cheesy spaghetti as a hat. Most of all, it was the year you learned to talk.
I wrote a Tico Times column recently about “hablando paja,” talkin’ straw, that expression closest to “shooting the breeze.” What I was too shy to say there was just how much the phrase means to me. In many ways, it is the cornerstone of our marriage: when someone has had a stressful day (usually me), or life is simply hard, the answer is always the same. Your father says, “Vamos a la cama a hablar paja.” When that time comes, I know it means there is nothing particular to discuss, that the conversation will meander, that there will be comfortable silences and little stories and my heart rate will slow to what I think of as its proper Costa Rican level.
2014 was the year you learned how to talk, but you have not yet learned to hablar paja. Everything you say is urgent and deeply important – that much is clear, even when I have no idea what your words mean. “Come on, let’s go!” you’ll say with your purse over your shoulder (and by “your purse” I mean my purse, or an old bag of Goldfish, or a wooden coat hanger, or whatever else you have decided is the accessory of the moment). “Look, the MOON!” you said to me just now on the way home from the supermarket, even though you had pointed out the moon two minutes before. “The baby is SAD!” you said throughout the day yesterday after we watched a Henry Hugglemonster episode that featured a momentarily sad baby monster; every time you repeated it, it was with so much empathy and despair that it seemed the baby was all alone somewhere, waiting for you to come and solve its problems.
Someday, I trust, you and I will shoot the breeze. If we are lucky, we will exchange so many words that we will only remember a small fraction of them, and we will talk aimlessly while looking at skies and trees and our toenail. So far, however, there is no hablando paja with you, which is how first words should be – only after years of practice will the incredible skill to put into words what you are thinking or feeling become commonplace. For now, you recognize it as the superpower it actually is. You are still fresh from the silence inside my belly and then the screaming muteness of babydom. Nabokov wrote, “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” That’s why first words fascinate us so. They are a message from the void.
As I write, this quiet house is vibrant with promise. Your lips, still for once as you lie sleeping now in your crib, hold the thousands of future words you will whisper, sing and shout from mountaintops. The air coming through the open windows holds the faint scent of explosives, a promise of the fireworks that will rain down on our neighborhood in just a couple of hours to celebrate the New Year. Our fridge holds a big bottle of Imperial because, well, hoy es de litro.
It’s a moment that’s full of things to come, but it’s also an ending, and it makes me think of last words. We don’t get to choose them, of course. I do entertain a few hopes about mine, mostly that they’re not “This footbridge seems a little wobbly,” or “AAAAAH!” or “Shark!” I also hope they are spoken in extreme old age, in a hammock at the beach or on a deckchair in Maine. But I don’t aspire to a particularly eloquent or lofty closing. I hope my last words are pura paja. “Do you think I should have another mojito?” would be ideal. “That cloud looks kind of like Danny Devito” would be just fine, too. Right now, the last words I have spoken were “Goodnight moon, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere,” and while I certainly hope those weren’t my last words ever, they’d do quite nicely.
At the same time, I hope my last 25 words, or at least my last thousand, have at least a little of the urgency and wonder of your first 25. I hope they will contain something worthy of this brief crack of light I love so much, this escape from the abyss, this cradle of life. I hope “happy,” your lucky number 25, is among them. And “thanks.” And “love.” And “peace.” And you, your name, many times over, because your name means all of the above.