I heard the crying drifting in from the living room as I worked on lunch in the kitchen. There was nothing unusual about it at first -- at least, not unusual for a house with two young, barely verbal, close in age siblings trying to share the bounties of a veggie tray. I couldn't quite discern who was crying, giving me pause for a moment to listen for a change in volume, cadence, urgency.
The crying became louder, but there were no thuds of running feet, just a rhythmic shuffle of bare feet across the hardwood floors.
He came into view wailing at a moderate volume, more sad sobs but with a sharp edge of physical discomfort, his face screwed up tightly in an indeterminate agony.
"What, buddy, what's wrong?" I put my best Mom voice on -- loud enough to be heard over his cries but soft and lilted enough to let him know I wasn't angry with him. "Are you hurt?"
He looked at me with that soul-crushing confusion of a child who doesn't understand the world around him fully, the tears in his eyes nearly accusing me of not telling him that whatever happened would hurt or cause discomfort. The betrayal of innocence for the things we take for granted, and we have to remember again what it's like to not know really much of anything, and how scary that can make the most mundane things seem.
He sobbed a beat longer and took a deep breath.
"It's in my eye!" he sobbed as he came towards me tentatively.
I blinked and frowned.
"What did you say? What about your eye?" I knelt down to his height and tried to look past the wrinkled face, red face and the hot overflowing tears to make sense of his statement.
"It's in my eye!" he sobbed again, more desperately. I am the Mommy, after all, I am supposed to be able to magically fix anything and everything.
Then, on the crest of his tiny cheek, was a lone cherry tomato seed.
He had tomato juice in his eye.
"Oh buddy! You've got tomato juice in your eye! It's okay, it's okay, c'mere," I quickly said as I swept him up and sat him on the counter, simultaneously grabbing a paper towel and wetting it with cold water to wipe his face with, an act I knew he would balk from.
He let me get three good swipes at his (now more clearly) red eye before he yelled no and tried to push me away, but his cries had already begun to subside, ebbing to the frustration of me touching him with something wet and the oddity of sitting on the kitchen counter, something he knows he's not allowed to do.
"Alright, alright," I mumbled, setting him back on his own two feet and starting towards the living room to see the damage.
Tova sat at their play table, happily crunching a carrot with ranch until she saw me enter the room.
"UH-OH, gah-waype! Keesee gah-waype!" Her still barely-chubby hand with a single finger outstretched indicated the offending cherry tomato, half squished on the edge of the table, the carnage of it's innards spread around it like a pool of clear acidic blood at a crime scene. With the same wet paper towel I wiped it up while Kiedis eyed it suspiciously, staying an adult's arm's length from the table until no trace of his assailant was apparent.
He went to his seat at the table as I put on my Mom voice again and told them to be careful, this is why we don't play with our food, because sometimes our food can hurt us if we're not careful so please be more careful, okay?
He grabbed a stalk of celery and daintily dipped the tip in the ranch bowl, electing to just lick the faintest dot of dressing off of the vegetable instead of actually imbibing it.
By the time I finished making lunch and serving it to them, there was no redness in his eye, as if nothing had ever happened.
But so much had just happened.
He's been repeating our words and phrases back to us for a while, now, in that way that little kids (and dismissive adults) do -- the last few things you say, they say back to you, regardless of the fact that you're asking a question or giving them options and that mimicry gets you nowhere. He's more often saying yes when we ask him questions, as opposed to always no no (enter thing you asked about here) all done (thing) ca-ween upet and being met with yet another wall of frustration and gridlock with a boy and his mind that you can't quite navigate no matter how well you follow the directions.
Everything is an echo of your vernacular and colloquialisms, mixed in with the common preschool chants and songs you often have to decipher as they come out of his tiny mouth, because the parts he doesn't clearly know he garbles and mumbles unintelligibly until one day you realize oh hey, he's gotten a couple more now, he's split up M and N in the alphabet song, good, good.
Except for this.
This incident marks the first time I have asked my son a question and gotten a clear and prompt response, conveying his needs with his words in sentence form. I asked if he was hurt and he, as well as he knows how, affirmed that by identifying the location of his discomfort using proper grammatical structure and syntax.
For the first time, we clearly and easily communicated, just as so many people take for granted.
It has not been the flipping of a switch so many people have told us would occur, but it is nonetheless a milestone in this long and arduous journey in learning how to understand one another. He's still repeating a lot of what we say without much clear comprehension or retention, so we're still mostly talking in circles and relying on his posture and facial expressions and our own parental instincts to decipher the majority of his wants and needs.
But there, for a moment, I asked my son what he needed from me and he was able to succinctly tell me.
And that is more, just more than I can possibly explain.