This Little, Big Heart

One of my most interesting, rewarding, entertaining, and at times frustrating jobs as a mom to an 18-month old is learning how to accurately interpret the words and phrases she is slowly learning to say. To date, I have learned that “beh-ji” is a request for berries, “book” is a request for milk, and “Buddy” is a request for her little stuffed animal whom I’ve consistently referred to as “Lambie.” I cannot for the life of me figure out if she has renamed him “Buddy” or if she truly hears the pronunciation of “Lambie” as “Buddy.” But I digress. A favorite a-ha moment was hearing her say what sounded like “apple” as she put both hands to her face, and realizing she was actually trying to prompt a game of “Peek-a-Boo!” I am convinced she is the cutest child on the face of the planet, and I am certain I am not biased.

An additional challenge is trying to figure out when she is simply practicing the new words she is learning, or when she is actually making a real request. Often, when she awakens from a nap, random words come out of her mouth in her still half-delirious sleepy state, which can be quite amusing. Regardless, she is clearly learning the dynamics of communication and takes delight in my ability to identify what she is trying to say and give a hopefully-appropriate response.

Yesterday, after finishing dinner and giving up her fourth, yes fourth poop of the day, she was whisked off to an early bath by daddy while I cleaned up the dishes. I couldn’t believe the jackpot of poopy diapers we had scored through the day and was certain she had nothing left to clear in her little belly by that point, which was a good thing because that whole diaper area was starting to get a little red and tender from so much wiping. Fresh and clean from her bath, diaper area covered in ointment, she was happily baby-drunk-walking around the living room when one little word came out of her mouth. “Poop.” I looked over in disbelief. “Did you poop?” She was quietly playing. I bent down and sniffed from the front, and my hyper-sensitive pregnancy nose failed to capture any hint of the brown stuff. Oh, I thought, she must just be practicing her words again.

About 10 minutes later, she burst into tears, arched her back and became essentially inconsolable for about half an hour. I still smelled nothing, and apparently lost all common sense to simply check the diaper area regardless. First I thought, she must be breaking out in her 18-month molars… she’s been so drooly lately. Then I figured, she didn’t nap as long today…she’s probably just getting tired. But as the crying continued to escalate, the paranoid PICU nurse in me actually jumped to the thought, It might be cancer! I’ve heard a number of patient stories where a normally calm child became inconsolable and cancer was eventually discovered in the ED… what if it’s cancer?! Thinking that some fresh air and change of scenery would do the trick, I took her outside to show her the moon and stars. It worked, temporarily. We went back inside and she became inconsolable again until I held her in the rocking chair and sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” She was again calm for about 20 minutes before breaking out in another round of a full sweat and streaming tears.

Finally, finally, I put her on the changing table to check her diaper. Sure enough. Just enough poop in the back area of her diaper to irritate her already-sensitive skin.

I looked into her wet, tired, frustrated, confused eyes and said, “I’m so sorry, sweet girl. You tried to tell me and I didn’t believe you. That must’ve been so frustrating, and you have an ouchie on your bottom. I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you.” She got quiet and looked aside, as if processing my acknowledgement of my failure and my apology. The frustration slowly eased from her face, and peace took its place.

And then, she put her hand to her mouth, and blew me a kiss. Over and over again. And as if that gesture of love and forgiveness was not enough, she took my wrist with her little hand and put my hand to my mouth, as if to prompt me to blow a kiss, as if to acknowledge the love she knew I was trying to show, in my oh-so-imperfect way.

Such grace from this little, big heart. Such a gift, this little one. Such a gift of grace.