Child with a Dove, Pablo Picasso, 1901
I try to do at least one New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle per week. After Richard died, his mother left a half-complete collection of NYT puzzles at our house. I asked her if she wanted me to mail it to her and she said, “No. I did so many in the hospital these last few months that I don’t think I ever want to do one again.” So I picked up her book and finished it. Then I bought another one and another one. There are 200 in each collection–now that I have kids, one book can last me over three years! But anywho…one of the clues this week for a three-letter verb reminded me of a sweet story from when Vivi was little and G and I were still in the throes of parenting an infant.
I make fun of G’s Brasilian accent now and again, but the man has an exceptional command of the English language. Shoot, he even helps me with those crossword puzzles–usually for things like isotopes, names of stars, or atomic numbers. Still, every so often, he bumps into a word he’s just never needed to know until that moment.
Like the time we took Vivi to the pediatrician when she was about six months old. Vivi had a lot of ear infections, so we were talking to the doctor about whether they might impair her hearing and speech development. The doctor said, “Does she make normal baby sounds? Is she cooing?” I assured him that she was and the doctor told me it was nothing to worry about. He told us that we could get Vivi dressed again and left the room. G put his hand on my arm and leaned in close. “What is this word ‘coo?'”
It’s a delicate whisper of a word–coo. Not something he would have run across in a chemistry lab, or a research paper, or a citizenship exam, or a patent application. Not a word you hear at the grocery store, the gas station, the tax office, the cafeteria, the television. It’s such a precise word. You might know it if you have been close to birds or babies, but not otherwise.
I explained, “Oh, you know the sound doves make. No? It’s those little happy sounds she makes, like she’s trying to talk to us, like a cat purring.” He smiled and cupped her tiny head in his calloused hand. He leaned close to her and said, “Do you coo, gatinho do papai?” I watched him as he tucked that word into his mind, on the English side, across from “arrulho.” A sweet word that only came his way because he’s a Daddy.
Is there a special word you associate with a moment in your life? What’s a word you remember learning?