according to Aunty Anne…
The drawing that hung over my bed always drew a comment from Ellie whenever she came to stay. Her first critique of the work was an enthusiastic “Mmm.” She couldn’t talk and was barely walking.
On another visit she pointed emphatically at my bookshelf and insisted “ook!” Actually, she said that about everything she pointed to, including the artwork. So, was it Look or Book or just a new substitute for “Mmm.” I gave the loudly “ook-ing” toddler a serious pep-talk on the need for eloquence and the usefulness of a broad vocabulary while pulling tomes off my shelf, failing to find which “ook” she was seeking.
The first time I recall Ellie saying anything comprehensible about the large glass-framed drawing was simply the word “circle” as she pointed to it. Her new word for the week apparently, and the first one I’d heard with two syllables. I agreed with her, it was a circle. Then I pointed out the snake that wrapped around the circle. She looked blankly at me, so I pulled out a picture book and showed her several snakes and explained what they were.
A few months later she swaggered into my bedroom, pointed to the picture and said “Big circle” and added “snake.” Not bad.
There was a long break before Ellie stayed again. She was two, it was December of 2002, and I was on crutches after tearing a thigh muscle. She was very gentle with me, not asking me to pick her up as she knew I couldn’t. She stayed for a couple of days and on the first afternoon she entertained herself while I lay on the couch watching. She took an interest in the flat-bottomed iron bells laid out in pitch sets on the floor. We’d played music on them before, but this time she picked up one large bell at a time, carefully turning them all upside down in a long row. I held my breath, worried she might drop a two or three-kilo bell on her tiny foot. Mission successfully completed, she then proceeded to walk across my loungeroom balancing on her novel string of stepping stones.
Eventually she got sick of being indoors and suggested we go visit the ‘Steam Rain.’ I told her the train would be asleep at the station.
“It’s the house where the train stays.”
Ellie still did not have sentences, but she managed to persuade me that it would be fun to see where the Steam Rain sleeps, so struggling on my wretched crutches, I followed my eager young niece out to the car.
Finding the gate to the historic tourist attraction locked, Ellie convinced me to leave the car and walk the long dirt driveway through scrub to Mordialloc station. It was a slow walk on my part, but Ellie was happily absorbed in looking at everything on route.
It was getting late and our shadows were lengthening. Easily frightened by what she didn’t understand, Ellie clung to my good leg and timidly pointed to her shadow.
I talked about the nature of light and shade. Pointing to the sun between the trees, I explained that her body stopped the sunlight from getting to the ground beyond her.
“This is your shadow.”
We looked at the shadows of the trees, then raised our arms and played with our own shadows for a while before continuing on to find the train.
Looking at it through a wire fence was not enough, Ellie wanted to climb the fence and get in with the ‘steam rain’. “It’s late Ellie, and Aunty Anne’s leg is too sore for climbing fences.”
The sun was setting as we walked to the car. I explained how the sun goes down every evening and when it disapears below the earth, it gets dark, and we call that night time. I wasn’t sure how much she was taking in, but she seemed to be listening.
The next morning I was awakened by an excited Ellie.
“Anne, Anne! Look! Anne Look!”
I opened my eyes to find Ellie sitting bolt upright in bed and pointing at the drawing. “What is it Ellie?”
With her face a study in concentration, Ellie carefully spoke the first sentence I ever heard her construct. “Sun… go down… in water. Night time!”
I was overjoyed. Eloquence at last. I hugged her and told her she was right and we laughed together. Then once again Ellie pointed to the picture and practiced her new sentence. It was no longer just a ‘circle’, and the snake was irrelevant to the current interpretation.
“Sun… go down… in water. Night time.”