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Emails to my Therapist

Baby’s First Words: Yours, Mine, Revealing?

baby's first words

Dear Nicholas, I found this week, as I was going through pictures and papers my mother left, a surprise document. In a “baby book”– filled in at the start but quickly going blank, of course–she had written her baby’s first words, my first words, back in the good year 1949. They are revealing.

So I’m wondering if that’s often so. Do you know your first words? Your children’s first words?

I found the discovery charming and delightful. Of course I did; they were my words, after all. And seeing the little list was like a wonderful piece of time travel.

So, okay, I won’t maintain the suspense any longer. First word, no surprise: Da! Da! Mom had recorded this with evident delight, underlinings and exclamation marks hers.

Second word: Tuck. That’s my mother and that’s what my father called her, so I did too. I switched to saying mama when I was old enough to hear other tots calling their mothers mama. I was pretty verbal by that time, because a treasured piece of family lore is the tale of when, as a toddler, I saw her in a bathing suit and commented, “Too tight, Tuck.”

Baby’s First Words Can Say A Lot

The next two words–Go and Car–are still favorites of mine. I do love to travel.

Word Number Five is a phrase: ShoesandSocks. I can almost feel myself in the moment of Mama getting me dressed, perhaps to Go in the Car.

Then comes: Sunshine. That pleases me to read. She and I are going to play outside.

Then of course: Store. My parents’ were in the clothing business, owned a tiny store in a former popcorn stand which, as I’ve noted here before, burned down when I was thirteen days old. They started over in a nearby location. Store is still a big word in my vocabulary. It was the family business and nearly as personal to me as home.

Finally, the last word on the list: Tie. No doubt that refers to tying my shoes. But I’ve always loved the look of a man in a suit, a coat and tie, a tuxedo. So maybe I was getting an early start on developing that enthusiasm.

Eight words on the list. After that, my talking was no longer news. And who has time to fill out one of those baby journals for long?

baby's first words

Using Big Words

I do remember one significant new word, much later, and I think it had to do with my turning out to be a writer. Please indulge me if I’ve told you this before.  I was in school by then and had younger twin brothers. Mom was starting to dish out dessert at dinner: cherry crisp, a crunchy variation on cherry cobbler. She asked each of the kids individually, starting with Harry and Franc, if we wanted “a little or a lot.” She asked me last. I said I wanted “a veritable mountain.” The look on her face–at my choice of the word veritable, perhaps at my use of metaphor–was amused, startled, pleased, proud. I can still see it.

So words are important, revealing–and catalysts. I never doubted it.


Now, I’m starting to remember early-words stories from parents: the baby who, lying in his crib, greeted his mother who’d just gotten out of bed with “hair’s a mess.” And the little fellow who was taken to a restaurant and when friends approached the table pulled his shirt up to his chin and yelled, “Naked!” I remember one of my nephews when learning to talk, silently copying the movements of my lips as I talked to him; he has turned out to be quite a scholar.

Tell me what you know about a baby’s first words, yours or anyone’s. I want to know more about #babytalk.

Verbosely chattily yours,


Some of these are pretty cute–some self-aware and headstrong babies here. Also, there’s a big emphasis on “da da.” Do daddies do more coaching on what to say first? Do mamas promote saying dada? My research does point out that it’s easier to say than mama.


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  • Beverly Tetterton
    February 25, 2019 at 2:14 pm Reply

    Uh-oh was my grandson’s first word. He is two now and jabbering up a storm. I don’t know my first word but I do know that I took my first steps in the Minnesota headwaters of the Mississippi River. That was the big reminiscence in my family.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 25, 2019 at 2:35 pm Reply

      Sounds like a conscientious lad, Beverly. Very auspicious first step you took. The first step page in my mother’s baby journal was blank, no doubt suggesting I would not have an athletic career.

  • Julia
    February 25, 2019 at 4:51 pm Reply

    My second child’s baby book left blank spaces for for dates for first tooth, first turned over, first sat up alone, started to crawl, reached for ____ on ____, stood alone, and first word. I remember thinking at the time, what’s this with the dates? Will this mean something to me later? It wasn’t the FIRST thing I thought of to record these milestone events in her baby book. But I see that she smiled on June 22, laughed on Aug 17, and stood alone on March 24th. “Hi!” was her first word, but the date was left blank. But I wrote in that she first blew bubbles on July 20th. What a strange collection of statistical data this represents, so analytical, except for the first word, Hi. I was trying to dutifully fill in all the blanks, but as you write, “And who has time to fill out one of those baby journals for long?” This book has a lot of blank spaces. I could have put check marks in the blanks, I suppose, like a To Do list of accomplished tasks, cause obviously it happened Sometime! Haha! Thinking of all this reminds me of how those hectic days were, so novel and over-stimulating, and how my energy felt like it had a leak somewhere. As I see it now, the baby book was a poor attempt to organize a complicated life, in a way that could tell a meaningful story. First words, with all their variously formed phonetics, start the story of our speech. So, all this fuss is really about communicating. Which is why I like your blog entry so much. Thanks for giving me a moment to reminisce.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 25, 2019 at 6:48 pm Reply

      Julia, I like your response so much. Hi seems an encouraging start to a life. The reminiscence for me on finding the partially filled-out book was a great gift. Don’t have kids myself and I can’t imagine taking time to log events with a new baby in the house.

  • February 27, 2019 at 9:48 pm Reply

    my memory of child development is that Da-da is easier/earlier to say. I’ve no idea what my or my soss’ first words were tho I wish I’d taken note. Your ancdotes are charming – glad you know these things.

    • Peggy Payne
      February 28, 2019 at 12:00 am Reply

      I’m enjoying finding out these bits of personal history–sort of.

  • November 16, 2019 at 5:33 pm Reply

    […] words can be pretty revealing too. I realized that when I ran across in my mother’s papers a list of my […]

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