Namine is far enough along now that she knows the proper word to call me is “Papa.” She’s far surpassed what the speech therapists and pathologists predicted (simply put, that she wouldn’t be able to use consonants very easily – but proving the “experts” wrong is what she does best). And she does, from time to time, call me “Papa.” But when she calls to me from the other room to come play with her, when she asks me to pick her up so we can dance, when she shows me what she’s drawing or coloring, or wants to read a book – for all those moments that are spurred by nothing but the heart’s desire – she calls me “Haha.”
It’s the name she’s called me since before the trach came out, the name that was the closest thing she could make to the real word. The trach prevented her from being able to make consonants, so the noise she could make became the name she called me. Of course now she knows the real word. But the word doesn’t matter; only the meaning behind the word does. The word “Papa” holds meaning, but “Haha” holds feeling and emotion; it is who I am.
This is similar to Namine’s sign for “I love you.” Namine didn’t have the finger dexterity to make the sign when she was little. (You know, littler.) We started teaching her sign language pretty early, because we thought she’d have the trach for a long, long time. (I’ve never been happier to be wrong!) But the closest approximation that Namine could do was crossing her index and middle fingers.
Namine can sign the “real” sign now, but it’s meaningless. If language is the conveyance of thought and feeling into signals and symbols for others to understand, the real sign holds no symbolism for the feeling for Namine. To her, the thought and feelings are communicated to us by the sign she knows, the sign that holds real meaning. Similarly, it would be silly for us to sign the real sign to her. We wordlessly tell each other of our love through the sign that Namine knows. It may have started as a compromise – if she can’t do that, then maybe she can do this – but after all is said and done, it now means so much more.