Words Worth a Thousand Pictures

by | Feb. 22, 2010


Whenever he spat out a new word, I went scrambling for a pen. "Baah." (Ball) "Mesh." (Mess) "Hoop! Hoop!" (He'd point out basketball hoops in the neighborhood.) Each of his precious first utterances became immortalized as "Sterling's Quote of the Day."

As my son grew into a babbling toddler, the novelty of his speaking wore off--but I couldn't stop writing. It occurred to me that the words he spoke were telling a story--his story. They showed his developing character. They revealed his feelings, his values, his sense of humor. They were painting a picture for me of what the world looked like to him, capturing his essence in a way no photograph could.

"These are the feathers of your eyes," he said, pointing to my eyelashes.

Often giggling to myself, I'd take half a minute while the spaghetti boiled to jot his remark on a post-it note. Or half a minute while paused in traffic to write it on a grocery tab. Then at the end of the day, or at the end of the week, I'd collect my son's quotes and put them in a journal.

It cost me next to no time at all. It yielded me an invaluable treasure.

"Mom," he asked once, examining his Christmas toys, "why is everything made in China?"

In time, my quote-collecting efforts waned. Sterling was joined, after all, by three siblings, each rattling a chorus of darling lines daily, the likes of which I could never have documented if I still hoped to, say, get dinner on the table.

But every now and then, when a poignant or telling phrase spilled from Sterling's lips, I took a mental note and slipped it into my journal later that evening.

Now fifteen and every bit an adolescent, his quotes document a distinctly maturing mindset.

"Four hamburgers, son? Can you really finish four hamburgers?"

"Mom, I could finish five."

Or, on another occasion with my husband: "Sterling, you sure spend a lot of time in the gym . . . "

"Three words, Dad: Basketball, football, and chicks."

I used to tell myself he was the one I was writing for. After all, without my help he would recall next to nothing of his early years. I set out wanting him to know a little something about the experiences that shaped how he thought, whom he trusted, what he valued. My goal was to help him know himself. And to be sure, the day may come when, deeply delving into the nature of his psyche, he will thoughtfully peruse his quote history, rub his chin, and exclaim, "Ahh! I see . . . "

But at present, he's not that hip to introspection. And I have to concede that in the end, this journal may be more for my benefit than his. So on a day like today, when he throws me a line like, "Mom, could you give me some space? I just want to be alone for a while," I can look back and remember when his quote of the day was slightly more solicitous: "Mommy, see this quarter in my hand? It's all my money. I'll give you this whole quarter if you play with me all day. Deal?"

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