It is the next day, after his birthday, and months after I should have known that I realize that Monroe is not speaking in a manner that is "developmentally appropriate."
It is insensible, mindless, blindness that has brought me to this day, as I stand hot and a little dizzy in Dr. Vestergaard's examination room, with three boys and one of them near-naked, and look at her in a jolt of acceptance. "A few dozen words," I say, and it comes to me. All at once. A few dozen? Barely four or five more than I'd acknowledged as Truman's sum and total at age two.
Weeks ago, I had sat on my front steps paging quietly through my college sketch book, bought at the National Gallery gift shop, a green and yellow Georgia O'Keefe flower on the cover. In it I had sketched a college crush, a glass of water, my eye, a bouquet of flowers, a carnation on a sunhat. In it I had, in another decade, recorded every word that Everett spoke at age two. Hundreds. At the time, I read them and wondered at the different paths my boys have taken in the development of their unassailingly formidable intellects. At the time, I had not doubted Monroe's speech at all.
You only need look in their eyes, to see, each will knock down IQ and aptitude tests with steely determination, it is there, deep brilliance, a heady serious soul behind each pair of eyes, green, brown, brown. Everett memorizes poems at two readings; Truman stubbornly "reads" every word of a book he's only heard twice; Monroe turns to the right page, "beep beep, ay!" he says, smiling at me. "Yes," I say, reading the rest of the garbage truck's dialogue. "Beep, beep, beep, hey! Beep, beep, outa my way!"
Why then, why, does he converse in babbling and the occasional 'hi,' 'byebye,' 'moon!'? Why have I never worried? Why am I still not worried? Is there something in our water? It's not lead, at least, we were just tested and we passed, no reading, no measurement. I vault forward and back through my new parenting philosophies, the old masters, I look to neurological research (faulty braincell connections, it's all my doing?), I wonder as I do so often, what would Ma Ingalls have done?. Ma Ingalls would never have written all Mary's words in her sketchbook, I imagine, for a minute half-wondering if baby Carrie's dialogue is worth analysis.
But then, in Ma Ingalls' day, the boy fish in the Potomac River weren't all laying eggs. She'd probably gone her whole life without tasting a soybean. No microwaves, no cell phones, no particulates, nothing but the occasional plague of locusts, polio, and such.
Oh, what have we wrought?
Perhaps this is why I haven't let it sink in: there are too many variables, too many possibilities, too many reasons to worry. In the pinball machine of my brain, theory and blame are zig-zagging so crazily I fear the cover of the machine will melt from the friction. Plexiglass dripping over levers and barriers and madly grinning clown faces, I must turn off the sound before it knocks me over too, he is fine, he is gorgeous, he is brilliant in his own time, I am not to blame.
I am to blame. At least, for this: for what he does know, for squeezing him too tight, for raising a two-year-old who happily eats blueberry blossoms and knows all the places in our yard to find the biggest raspberries. For a child who is both quick to anger and quick to giggle, keening in happiness, for this force of human nature who has become Everett's raison d'etre, for a little boy who throws no tantrum as wild as the one in which he is being denied a bike ride, who is on the cusp of both learning to calm himself and ask "pees" for his most-desirables and to climb out the bathroom window by scaling the wall with his bare toes.
Blame/no blame, I accept it all, it is me after all, me his mother, at age just-two his center, his sun and new moon, his teacher, his spiritual guide. I cannot escape my power over him, just as I cannot escape my love for him, my need to answer his cries, even when they send me over the cliff of maternal sanity. Nor can I avoid my culpability in this: not knowing, not realizing, not doing more.
So I try. I struggle, I tell myself I'll call for the county's analysis, I put off calling, I read to him at night, I show him the moon when we are riding the bike and make the sign, right-hand fingers making a backward "C", looking up to the sky, telescoping. "Moon, moon, moon!" I say, and he says it back, "mooh, mooh, mooh!" so thrilled, so close to me, so culpable.