How to Construct Words

reaching baby

I have been building words for the past few weeks. You do it with a hammer and nails.  It takes a long time. Even when I make a simple ‘mmmm’ sound I wave my hands around and kick my right foot like I’m starting an old motorcycle. Making words is extremely aerobic, more work than reaching for a toy, I can tell you that.

Once I figured out how to hum, I did it over and over, like this:  ‘mmmm’ and ‘mmmmmm’ and ‘mmmmmmmmm.’ You try it. It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. (If you’re in a conference room or in a meeting with your boss, don’t try it right now. Wait until you’re in the shower or something.)

After I said mmmm’ 108 times, I added ‘ah.’  That got me ‘maaaaah.’ This word works great when you want to express your devotion to the 108 manifestations of an ancient feminine diety, but actually I wanted to use a variation of this word for another, personal purpose. My mother, in case I haven’t mentioned recently, is a bountiful source of love and food, a deity in her own right. I needed to get her attention in a way that wasn’t crying or yelling. I wanted her to smile at me.

One day, while rolling in my stroller up a hill we call Visionary Hill, what burst out of me was: ‘ma ma ma ma.’  It was an amazing revelation. My mother was delighted. She smiled! I felt like Newton and Leibniz battling over the invention of calculus, or Kirkegaard writing ‘Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward.’ Big stuff!

Then, as soon as I figured out how to do it, I forgot how I did it.

Einstein forgetting the theory of relativity. Frank Sinatra forgetting the words to a song. ‘I did it … oh, somebody’s way?’  Pathetic.  I was bummed. If I knew how to curse, I would have cursed. I hear my father cursing at something called computers, and at something called drives, at mp3 files, wav files, .mov files, something called Final Cut Pro, something called Drupal, something called PHP, and Twilio, and HTML, and also something called Android. I have no idea what any of this is about, but he seems to get quite worked up.

It’s no good for me, anyway, because I can’t grasp the cursing concept. I’m working on something bigger. I want my mom to smile at me.

One day my mom was doing yoga and I was kicking her. I have studied books written by Iyengar and Baron Baptiste, and I have created my own form of yoga. It is about kicking my mom when she does yoga. Kicking her while she does yoga helps me gain strength and focus.


I also work at rolling a giant red ball. Look at the picture and compare the size of the ball to that tiny little part of Rhode Island, and you’ll see that the big red ball is about the size of Mars. It’s really big. Anyhoo, I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden it burst out of me again: ‘ma, ma ma, mom, mom, ma, ma, mama, mommy’ – you might think I’m kidding, but I went through all possible variations over the course of  thirty minutes. I had suddenly mastered this particular mouth shape, a kind of puckering of my lips, that permitted the creation of about a million mama sounds in a row.

Then I forgot how I did it.

It’s okay though. My mommy smiled at me a lot.