We are often baffled by words Emma says which we do not understand the context or meaning of. See Emma’s Language and Sunday Morning’s Conversation for more. A few weeks ago we were dumbfounded by the utterance, “cheese-solos” which Emma requested over and over again. Prior to that it was something that sounded like, “atta-tah”. It turned out the first was cheese doodles, evidently given to her as a snack at her school, but since we never bought them, it took a moment of sheer genius on Joe’s part to make the connection. The latter turned out to be, “go to town” as in “No we’re not going to go to town.” Except Emma would say, “No, we’re not going atta-tah.” Even as a baby, Emma’s first words were, “All done!” though it sounded more like “ah-dah”. As she has grown older the words continue to confound us, but even when they are intelligible they often do not make sense to any of us. For the past few weeks in answer to the question – what would you like to do today? – Emma has responded with, “Go to downtown Aspen, push the button game?”
One day last week Joe, determined to get to the bottom of this, spent some two hours in town with Emma trying to figure out what she meant. He came home as perplexed as when he’d left.
So when Emma said to me, “Downtown Aspen? Push the button game?”
I inwardly groaned as I knew we would be spending a great deal of time wandering around town trying to find a game which I no longer was convinced she even knew what or where it was played. But Nic was at the skateboard park with my friend Claudia, so I figured I would go wherever Emma pointed me and see where our adventure took us.
“Go this way,” Emma said from the back seat of the car, pointing in the direction leading toward Independence Pass.
“But Em, that will take us out of town,” I said.
Emma nodded her head. “Go downtown?” she said with the inflection making it sound like she was posing a question.
“If I turn left Em, we will be heading out of town,” I said, hoping this would clarify things.
“Yes,” Emma said.
“Okay,” I said, taking the next left leading us out of town. “Is this the right way?” I asked after a few minutes.
“Yes?” Emma said.
“Okay, Em. You want to go out of town. This is not downtown, this is leaving town,” I said.
“Leave town?” Emma repeated.
“Where should I go now?” I asked as we passed the turn off to the Aspen Club.
“Go this way?” Emma said.
“Which way, Em. You have to point,” I said looking at her in the rear view mirror.
“Go this way?” Emma said pointing to the turn off for the cemetery where both my grandparents are buried as well as my father and a number of family pets.
“Oh, do you want to go to the cemetery?” I asked.
“Cemetery?” Emma repeated. “Push the button game?”
“Okay, Em,” I said as we neared the padlocked gates. I stopped the car. “Is this where you play push the button game?”
“No! Downtown Aspen!” Emma cried.
“But Em, I’ve been asking you where you want to go and you told me to come here. I’ve gone exactly where you wanted, I just can’t understand where it is you want to go,” I said, exasperation and exhaustion crept into my voice.
“Go downtown Aspen?” Emma managed to say in between tears.
“But Em we just were downtown, remember? We spent at least 45 minutes downtown with Muzzy in the stroller,” I said.
“Go downtown, push the button?” Emma repeated sobbing.
“Em. I give up. I don’t know where you want to go. Should we go back to Granma’s?”
“Push the button,” Emma, now inconsolable, cried.
As I turned the ignition on, Richard called asking how things were going and where we were. He agreed to come meet us at the skateboard park and said he’d take Emma.
The entire way back into town, Emma cried in the back seat, “Push the button!” Then she paused and said, “Shhhh! You have to be quiet. Stop screaming.” Listening to her I could hear the echo of other people in her life, speaking to her. Not only was she repeating what had been said to her, she was also adopting the tone and inflection of the many people in her life who have cared for her over the years.
Hours later, while Nic, Claudia and I sat outside the fountain in the middle of town, Richard and Emma appeared.
“Hey! How did it go?” I asked.
“Well, my theory regarding the push the button game was correct,” Richard said triumphant.
“What theory?” I asked.
“I told you the other day,” Richard said.
“You did not!” I said.
“It’s a water sculpture and fountain on the other side of the mall. If you look at it from a certain angle it kind of looks like a hot tub and she pretends to push a button to make the water jets come on.” Richard looked at us.
“I cannot believe it,” I said, looking at Emma who was happily sitting on the chair across from me. “You’re a genius,” I said to Richard.
“The only problem with being a genius is no one recognizes it,” Richard said.