I hear him talk, and somewhere in the back of my mind I can clearly hear the high pitched, almost mewling sound of a newborn's cry. I marvel over the consonants and vowels, coming together in the most extraordinary way, bringing me closer to knowing him with every word he says.
I revel in it, each new word, every phrase. The joy of hearing him express his wants, his needs. The joy of hearing him express his joy. Every new word is repeated, questioned ("dat?"). He seems to taste them, saying them over and over, making sure he's got it right. I explain them all, sometimes resorting to online dictionaries to make sure I'm getting it right.
Sometimes they are jubilant. "Mickey!" when I'm wearing a shirt I got at Disney World, over the moon with excitement at seeing the mouse.
Sometimes they are mischievous. "Blankie," he tells me when I go into his room at night, pointing to the floor with an innocent look, as though the blanket somehow flew over the crib railing of its own accord.
Sometimes they are plaintive. "Daddy?" he asks at night, giving me sad eyes before laying his head on my shoulder when I tell him that Daddy's still at work.
All these words make my breath catch in my throat. I want to clutch him to me, somehow force him to remain small, to need me. Because with every word he knows just a little bit more of the world, he's that tiny bit more capable. My head knows that this is good; my heart remains utterly unconvinced.