From ‘Rawr’ to ‘Gunkey’

As a pediatrician, I love newborns. They are cute and cuddly and fun to pick up. Most importantly, when they get cranky you swaddle them as best you can and then leave them in their crib with the parents or the nurse. As a parent, your own newborn is something that is unique and precious and yet also frustrating and at times maddening.

In our house, we definitely do not have a newborn anymore. Amelia recently turned two (okay it was three weeks ago and I am just now finally getting around to her birthday post. I apologize to you, the highly discerning reader) and it is fascinating to look back over the past year and think of just how much she has changed and grown. To me the most interesting part was to watch her personality bloom and for her to be able to start to express herself.

I remember taking her to her 1 year old well-child check. At the time, Susie and I were both concerned to various degrees about her ability to talk (or lack thereof). At bare minimum, a 1 year old should say ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ to the correct person and one other word. Any word. A-N-Y word. Just two measly words, that’s it. Unfortunately, Amelia could only reliably muster up one word, which if you squinted your ears was probably “dada”. The woman who watches her during the day would say that she could say other words, but we weren’t really buying it.

I was only mildly concerned because she was born a few weeks early and had always been on the back side of the Bell curve for all things developmental (outside of gross motor skills. There was a reason we used to call her ‘Danger Mouse‘). She would usually catch up a few weeks later and everything would be right with the world. But this seemed different. Why wouldn’t she talk? We talked to her all the time and yet, rarely did she talk back. I reassured myself by saying that she seemed to be able to hear us just fine and that she looked like she had something to say. Only she didn’t. To me, it was almost as if she knew that she could talk, she just didn’t feel like it. But that was just a gut feeling and I wasn’t sold on that. (And as a pediatrician/dad I never get wrapped up and perseverate about my children’s issues. Never.)

So off Amelia and I went to the doctor’s office. I made her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut it up and brought it with us. We got into the exam room and continued to wait. It was a jungle-themed room and we bided our time by eating some cut-up sandwich and looking at the pictures of animals. I kept pointing at different animals and making animals noises to see if I could get her to repeat them. She wouldn’t even do that. I had ben trying for a few weeks to get her to do that and on rare occasion would she make a sound in response. I kept trying to remember when Hannah made animal noises and I felt like it was at this age. Why wouldn’t Amelia do it? Maybe there really was something wrong and I was deluding myself.


(wait, I think that is a lion noise)

“Lion?” I said, pointing at the picture of the lion.


“That’s right Buggy! Lion!”


Loud and clear, no mistaking it and no denying it. She definitely said “Roar!” and equated that with the lion. That is a word, it is proof of learning and language processing. And from that moment on, I knew everything was going to be okay. Sure enough it was.

It was at that moment about a year ago that I remembered what I love so much about children, especially little children. It is watching them find and express their personality. It is silly and a gross generalization, but at times like these I sometimes say “It’s like she is a real person!” Clearly, she was always a person, but to me, these are the first moments when she is really expressing who she is as a person. you can see her exploring who she is, what the world is and how people relate to each other. Seeing emotions and feeling.

Once I let go of my worry, time started to fly and so did Amelia’s vocabulary, not to mention her personality. I remember being fascinated by the first time I saw her pick up her Sesame Street figurines  and start to really play with them. they weren’t just lifeless hunks of plastic anymore. They were characters which could have thoughts and feelings. She would have them talk to each other and look at each other. Make up songs with lyrics only she understood. Have them hugs and kiss each other, tell them that they loved each other and had them interact, just like the people did.

One of my biggest regrets from when Hannah was little was forgetting some of the cute little things she would say. Like all young kids, she would mispronounce words in amusing ways. So cute and endearing that you kind of wish they would always say them that way, even though a 35 year old chemical engineer probably doesn’t seem as cute saying “frawbury” (strawberry) or “kanggana” (kangaroo). Hannah had a whole list of them and at the time they were so cute I just knew I would remember them forever. Unfortunately, frawbury and kanggana are all that remain in my addled brain.

Luckily, the Internet is forever and I can use this small corner of it to commemorate forever the cute words and phrases that Amelia started using this past year. There is ‘gunkey’ which is how she says monkey and is immediately followed by the cutest “Oooh-ooh!” you will ever hear. The way every fruit is “apple”. The way she furrows her brow and looks at you when something isn’t going right and she says “No, daa-dee!” or the way she forcibly moves her arm back and forth and says “MOVE!” She got an Elmo video for her birthday and now as soon as I pick her up from day care she immediately asks for “Elmo Wee-Vee!”

But like most things, nothing can beat the original. That word I helped teach her just one short year ago is still my favorite. “Rawr”. Up until a few weeks ago, she never said “Lion”. It was always “Rawr”. There is a book we read almost every night before bed and at one point it goes through the alphabet and identifies one word that starts with each letter. Of course, L stands for Lion. But Amelia always says “Rawr”. Even though I know I shouldn’t, I don’t correct her. I try not to even mention the word lion, lest she start correcting herself. And yet, on occasion, I have heard her slip “Lion” in there along with the “Rawr”. That’s how it starts. You think you have all of the time in the world to hold on to those moments. They will always be there. But soon they will fade away.

In the end, this is good and is the natural order of things. We are raise children so that they will grow up into adults. But there are so many moments I wish I could freeze and keep forever. Moments like “Rawr!”

As per usual McKenna tradition, you can catch the video capturing Amelia’s 2nd year here


About ironsalsa

I'm just a man who likes to hear himself talk, yet pretends he can't stand himself.
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