In less than two months, Natalie will be one year old.

It’s dizzying to reflect on the ungodly quantity of human development crammed into one’s first year on earth. By now Natalie is more child than baby: pulling herself up and cruising along the furniture, singsonging strings of syllables (her favorites include not only ma-ma and da-da, which may or may not mean us, but also ning-ning, which means nothing that we can decipher), grabbing handfuls of sauerkraut or spinach curry off my plate and cramming them into her mouth with delight. When did the crumpled spidery creature that burst forth from my loins last year become so human?
toddling at the park

This process is both amazing and entirely commonplace. When my daughter lets go of the coffee table with one hand, steadies herself with the other, turns to face me and gives me a giant four-toothed smile, it is miraculous and unique and priceless. Yet every able-bodied adult human has gone through the exact same stage. We all learned to locomote. We all acquired language. We all cut teeth. It shouldn’t be so impressive when a new person does it. And yet, as I watch Natalie level up on a near-daily basis, I am amazed by her singularly incredible talents. Holy crap, that’s my daughter, and she’s taking the oath of office making her Carnegie Hall debut feeding herself.

I’ve tried to avoid waxing rhapsodic about Noodles’ regularly-scheduled accomplishments, since no matter how much they impress me, at the end of the day they’re to be expected in the ordinary course of childhood. To the extent that I’ve strayed from this goal, I apologize for joining the herd of parents who are shocked, awed, and simply must tell you about the miracle of their offspring’s most routine developmental milestones. But I would be remiss in my parenting if I failed to note on the public record that Natalie has, quite possibly, uttered her first actual word.

Here’s how it went down. Natalie was in the bath, playing with her favorite family of toy ducks. “What’s that?” I asked her, holding up one of the ducks. “What’s that, Natalie? Is that a duck? A duck!”

She looked at the duck, looked at me, and said “Dah!”

“Duck!” I repeated, encouraging her.

“Dah!”

“Duck!”

“Dah!”

Granted, “da” is one of her favorite syllables. Frequently she will give entire monologues consisting of variations on the theme: “da-da-dadada-DADADA!!! did-dud-dud-did-did-ditt!” But this struck me as something new. The intentional monosyllable, the deliberate inflection, the light in her eyes as she repeated after me: all these things convinced me that, at the age of not-quite-eleven months, Natalie had made the inscrutable connection between object, meaning, and utterance. That thing was a duck, and she knew that the sound “duck” meant that thing, and she said so.

And then, not fifteen minutes later, she said it again. “Dah!” Only this time there were no ducks in sight. I think she was talking, if anything, about our basset hound Buford.

So her first word may be Duck. It may be Dog. Or it may not have happened yet, and all of this magical association of sound and sense may still be a figment of my parental imagination.

But this, this at least, is a milestone that’s not just in my head:

It’s not real walking, the kind you do while using your core strength and balancing upright without holding on to any supports. But it counts. There’s my little Supreme Court justice, toddling behind a plastic toy truck. And her awestruck mother has never been so impressed.

(Until next week.)

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