A child's first words – or, more important, how they're pronounced – can be a source of endless entertainment for parents. My older son, Caleb, was a chatterbox before the age of 1, uttering baby-journal gems such as "Russell sprouts," "raff" (giraffe), "straw-bears," "blue-bears," and "oggs" (eggs). On winter mornings, he would point out the window and shout, "no, no, no!" to describe the puffy white snowflakes falling from the sky. (And perhaps echoing the sentiments of those heading off on a slushy drive to work.)
My younger son, Connor, however, is content as a quiet observer, weighing in here and there with a belly laugh, approving nod, or selectively chosen word (mainly when tied to food). He understands what we say; he's just happier letting his brother do the talking.
At 18 months and 4 years old, they play well together. And despite their huge gap in vocabularies, they've come up with some creative ways to communicate. I've heard that twins sometimes invent their own language, a unique way of talking to each other, called "twin-speak." My sons have formulated their own version of that: "car-speak." A typical play session goes something like this:
Connor, pushing a dump truck: "Vroom, vroom."
Caleb, pushing a race car: "Whee, whee."
Connor replies: "Beep, beep."
Caleb (louder): "Whee, whee, wheee!"
Then they'll laugh, push their vehicles side by side, and continue making car and truck noises without uttering a single word in the English dictionary.
Later, Connor picks up the kazoo and starts to play. Caleb finds a wooden train whistle. The two of them go back and forth blowing their instruments progressively louder until Mom has had enough.
At dinner, they move from land to sky as airplane noises take over. As Connor munches on finger foods, his big brother comes over to share (or offload) a forkful of his supper. "Swoosh, swoosh," Caleb says, pushing his piled fork through the air and landing it near Connor's mouth.
Connor smiles and gulps a bite of his brother's dinner.
Like little bear cubs, they also spend a fair bit of time rolling on the floor as they learn the meaning of the word "share."
But I've noticed that during their tender moments at play, they're rarely frustrated with their inability to carry on a "real" conversation. They're not communicating in the same way adults do, yet they understand each other and they're learning and relating just as well (if not better).
They're content plunging into a land of transportation and make-believe, then resurfacing to learn a few lessons on how the world works, lessons that don't require words: how to piece a train track together, make a paper airplane soar, measure sand, kick a ball, draw a square.
Later, at bath time, sounds of motor boats and splashing fill our house. The boys measure water into cups and pour it over their heads. As we snuggle in for stories, Caleb embraces his brother, whom he affectionately calls "little wheatie." Connor hugs him back and gently says, "La, la" (love, love). He rests his head on his brother's shoulder and gives him a reassuring pat with his cherubic hand.
They hold still, heads on each other's shoulder, for a few moments. I'm reminded of how special their friendship is, with a foundation built on the simple joys of childhood – playing, laughing, creating memories, and learning to navigate life's little lessons. And that's when I think that in their world, there's really no need for words.