Words Matter

Greetings! Today’s post references Chapter 3 of my latest book, 10 Secrets Happy Parents Know… And also the recent visit a wonderful museum in New York City I got to go to last week!

If you’re having trouble figuring out how those two intersect, read on : )

Here in this space today I’m hoping help you see how the ordinary is truly profound.

This occurred to me on Thursday as I was viewing the mementos from JRR Tolkien’s life which are currently on view at the Morgan Library in New York City.

My husband Ben and I were two of about 100 people waiting to get inside, when the library opened, on a weekday morning! We went that day because, on weekends, you’re not even guaranteed admission to the exhibit itself! This is because so many people love Tolkien’s work so much, that we all have the same desire to view these mementos.

Which include:

  • 1) Maps and original watercolors of Tolkien’s
  • 2) Lots of pictures, of Tolkien and his family
  • 3) Handwritten timelines that helped him as he wrote The Lord of the Rings
  • 4) An honest-to-goodness accounting book, in which Tolkien kept track of his “hours worked” to “number of kisses earned” from his beloved wife, Edith
  • 5) Doodles, extremely elaborate, and drawn by Tolkien as he read the newspaper
  • 6) Early drawings and drafts of Elvish, the language Tolkien had been making up since he was a small boy

I swooned over the first few items on this list. We’re talking about beloved maps and images that I’ve known since the age of ten, when an uncle gave me my very own box set of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

But my favorites were the ones toward the end, which showcased Tolkien’s seemingly ordinary, day-to-day writings.


I believe that words, ordinary words, are truly profound.

When my oldest was 5, just before he started kindergarten, we made a codebook together. I found a series of symbols, one each substituting for one letter of the alphabet, and Max and I would go back and forth in this codebook, sharing messages.

One day I got a message purporting to be from Backstop, one of Max’s transformers. When I decoded the message, with my 5-year-old practically jumping up and down beside me, I read it aloud:
“Mom. I am lost. Help. Backstop.”

Backstop the transformer was lost! He had sent us this message for help! Max’s eyes sparkled as he saw that I understood the adventure he created; we searched the house until we found Backstop.

I came across that codebook recently, and the words Max had written in it, from Backstop, seemed really precient considering all that came after.

By the time Max was 7 he had changed from the happy and imaginative child he been at 5, retreated away, into himself, because of the pressures of early elementary school.

That little message – “Mom. I am lost. Help.” – stayed with me, and I worried that my Max would remain lost forever.

Thankfully, we found a way forward that brought Max back to us, restoring his self-confidence, his sense of himself as a learner, and most importantly his wonderful heart and soul.

(I’m telling a live story about this tonight, in Concord, Massachusetts! If you’re in the area and want to come see, click this link and I will see you there!)

I think about that time whenever I run across our codebook.

Like Tolkien’s memorabilia, it’s one of those small, deceptively ordinary bits of life that holds so much meaning, for so long afterwards.

When I hold this codebook in my hands, when I look at the overly large and barely legible script my five-year-old worked so hard on, tears come into my eyes.

What I’m looking at is my boy’s heart and soul, written onto the page. It’s the same feeling I get when I look at Tolkien’s doodles, drawings, and accounting book not for cash, but for kisses.

An excerpt from 10 Secrets Happy Parents Know

In Chapter 3 of 10 Secrets Happy Parents Know, the second in Your Child Explained series, I share about Deb Roy and the amazing TED talk he gives, “The Birth of a Word.” I write:

Well, so what?
So, why does this matter, in your world, with your child? It’s cool and everything, the TED talk and the research, but what’s in it for you?
Because Roy helps us see how the ordinary is truly profound.
Way back in college during one class on infant development… I dutifully took notes, but I wasn’t really into the lecture. Until the professor got to first words.
“Babies begin forming recognizable first words around twelve months old,” she shared. “This graph illustrates the likelihood of a word being a baby’s first.” The accompanying graph showed common, ordinary words: Ball. Bye-bye. Dog. Cat.
These words disappointed me. They’re just so everyday, so pedestrian. Why do so many babies start with plain old words like ball, dog, or cat, I wondered?
It was only when my first baby said his first word – “more” – that I realized why. It’s because they communicate what matters most to them in that moment. Here is my child, sharing his desire for more food! I wanted to shout from the rooftops. The most important thing a baby wants to communicate can be summed up in that first word. When my youngest brother said his first word, “hot,” he echoed our Dad’s warning that the pizza we were about to put in our mouths might burn us. When my youngest’s first word ended up being “ball,” far from disappointed I was thrilled. He was asking to play with a ball, one of his favorite toys. It meant so much to him that he needed to communicate about it.
Far from being ordinary, these statements are our first window into our child’s deepest and most profound thoughts.”

Words really matter.

Even when those words are garbled because they are our kids’ very first attempts at speech. Even when they’re barely legible, because they’re our children’s very first attempts at writing.

I know that we can’t save them all. But I’m curious, do you have any memorabilia like this? What strikes you about it, what moves you when you look at it?

I’d love to hear about it. Just click here and share : )

Keep reading below for What’s up on the podcast/on YouTube/in the Facebook group… And for the picture of the week!

Wishing you a wonderful parenting week!

What’s up on the podcast this week:
We dive into a new series! It’s about educating kids, and I call this episode “Where and when does a child’s education begin?”
Click weturnedoutokay.com/277 to listen!

What’s up on my YouTube channel this week:
Extending on this theme, the live YouTube (I do one every Thursday) is called
“What’s most important for my young child to learn?” and it is available at the link just above! Or,
Check out my YouTube channel by clicking here.

What’s up in the We Turned Out Okay Facebook group this week:
Each Monday at 10:30 a.m. EST, I do a superquick Facebook live that I call “Magic Words for Parents”… This week I share one useful way that we can view our children. Click here to join the Facebook group : )

Picture of the week:

How could I share all about the codebook, without showing you the codebook itself?



PS – If you’re enjoying this Weekly Parenting Newsletter, sign up to receive it in your inbox, or forward it to a friend who needs a parenting boost today.