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Lisa Belkin Headshot

A Child's Memorable First Words

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BRONTE
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My older son's first word was "that." Okay, he pronounced it "dat", but we knew, particularly with the added emphasis of his chubby pointer finger, exactly what he meant. And it was a glimpse of the person he would grow to be that he had sorted through the entire language and chosen the most efficient of words, the one that could describe absolutely everything.

My younger son's first word was "more." And he too grew to embrace and inhale life. Socially, intellectually, this kid still can never get enough. That was quickly followed by "By. Self." Which sums him up, too.

And my own first word, as family lore has it, was not a word really, but a sentence. Pointing to the mobile over my crib I supposedly announced: "Look at da birdie." One could say I still use three words when one would do...

First words are a transformative milestone. Like first smiles, they give you a glimpse into the being within. Like first steps, they bring your child a little closer to where they were meant to be. We fret over them before they happen -- are they talking too late? Crawling too long? Meeting milestones the way the books say they should -- and the way the neighbors' children are? And when they happen we memorialize these firsts in baby books, or in memories. Then we move on to our next obsession, our newest measure; the firsts become manys, and it sometimes seems like our children have always talked (and, some days, like they just won't stop.)

I imagine that Bronte Cassell's parents will not take her words for granted any time soon. The little girl from South Yorkshire, England was born premature, at 25 weeks, and weighed just 25 oz, according to the BBC. Medical complications meant she needed a breathing tube in her throat when her windpipe narrowed dangerously at six months. Doctors saved her life, but took her voice, and for two years she communicated by mouthing words, using sign language, or pointing. Recently the tubes were removed, and Bronte spoke for the first time. "I love you daddy," she said to her father, Martin. To her mother, Hellen, then followed with, "I love you, mummy."

What were your child's first words?