The other day I received a phone call from Joe. “We’re at the playground. Emma asked to speak with you,” Joe said.
I could hear Emma crying in the background. “You have to ask Mommy,” I heard her say.
“Hi Em. What’s going on?” I asked. I could hear her breathing into the phone.
“Mommy! You have to ask Mommy. Mommy?” Emma said.
“What is it, Em? Are you okay?”
“Mommy can I take off my other shoe?” Emma sobbed.
“Oh, Emmy. It’s too cold outside. You have to keep your shoes on, but when you get home you can take them off,” I said. Emma’s wails of despair rose and fell. “Em, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”
“Mommy? I want to take shoes off!” She cried.
“I know, Sweetie. But it’s really cold out and you can’t take them off. When you get home you can.”
“Mommy! Mommy! Come!” Emma said.
I could hear Joe reasoning with her, offering her choices. Asking her if she’d like to go to the bookstore or stay in the playground. When she chose the playground he asked her if she’d like to go home and take her shoes off or stay in the playground and keep them on.
“No! Stay in playground,” Emma said.
“Okay, she’ll be okay,” Joe assured me before hanging up.
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had anything resembling a phone conversation with Emma. That she asked to call me was exceptional. Once the call was made she stayed and listened, didn’t like my answer, but responded to it without walking away. I know it may seem I’m clutching at straws here, but the telephone is an abstract concept. Add to that, the fact Emma has difficulty communicating through language and the phone becomes a formidable object.
Years ago when I was in Paris visiting my aunt, the phone rang while she was in the bathroom. She asked me to find out who was calling. I was absolutely terrified to pick up the receiver. What if they spoke too quickly for me to understand? What if they asked me a question I didn’t know the words to formulate a proper answer? Hearing a voice without accompanying gestures or facial expressions to aid me made communicating in a language not my own all the more daunting.
Yet Emma asked Joe to call me.
It was a tremendous step forward.