Hali's Park
Hannah, Age 16, Herndon, VA

“Look! Neat!” little Hali sighed, taking in her setting. Her gaze scanned left to right. Intrigued by the vivid flowers and lively butterflies that flitted so near her face, Hali tried to reach out and grab them in her plump hands. She stoop up on her chubby, wobbly legs, temporarily tumbling over. However, the perseverant one-year-old tucked her legs back under her and tottered around, feeling the bouncy grass squish between her toes. She soon gave up, too distracted to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, and plopped back down, once again engaged by the brilliant colors only noticed by a child her age.

“Hali! Dear, come here please!” Hali’s mother, Grace, called out. Hali ignored her, continuing to gaze around. She had never been to the park before, and she felt the need to study everything surrounding her, should she ever have to leave.

“Come on, Hali, we need to go home; it’s time to eat!” Grace shouted out sweetly, hoping to entice her with the prospect of food. Hali just shook her head and persisted to pull up the grass and watch the minute ants scuttle away from her incoming hand. She giggled, captivated at her control over these tiny creatures, soon blocking out the new sights and sounds entering the park.

Not even Hali’s mother could bring her away from the ants, until Grace had to physically pick up the girl and set her lovingly into the stroller. While Grace was annoyed they left the park later than she had planned, she couldn’t help but smile at her bubbling little girl.

However, Hali kicked and screamed the whole way home; she did not want to leave her new-found place full of many interesting sights.

As Grace fed Hali her dinner, she asked the toddler questions about her day. She hoped it would encourage her youngster to start talking, much like the other kids in their play group.

“Did you have fun at the park today, Hali?” Grace asked, while spooning applesauce into her daughter’s mouth; Hali cooed back happily. She then smiled widely, and her dinner slid out of her open mouth and down her chin. Grace simply laughed, scooped up what was spilled on Hali and proceeded to spoon more into her babbling mouth.

“Do you want to go back to the park tomorrow? You seemed to enjoy yourself there, with those butterflies and ants.”

Again, Hali smiled and sighed, remembering all the sights and sounds she experienced that day.

“Maybe we can even get Daddy to go with us! How’s that sound, Sweetie?” Grace suggested. Hali slammed her hands down into the applesauce on her tray in excitement. Laughing so hard spit dribbled from her mouth, Hali brought her hands down again, making it splash everywhere.

“Oh, my! You silly little girl! I see the park is your new favorite place to visit!” laughed Grace; she was completely unable to contain her amusement. She skirted into the living room and snapped a few pictures of her giggling daughter, covered in applesauce.

* * *

The next day, Grace, Hali, and Hali’s father, Mathew, made the short trek to the park. Mathew was skeptical of the joy it brought to his daughter, so he decided to see for himself. Once they arrived and entered through the park gates, Hali’s face lit up, realizing where they were, and she began to babble incessantly.

“Hali, Hali, calm down!” Mathew muttered in complete shock at the upswing of his daughter’s mood. “I guess you’re right, Grace, she made a 180 as soon as we walked into the park!”

“I told you as much,” Grace retorted, slightly annoyed that he didn’t believe her the first time she told him. “She absolutely adores being here. Look at her go, taking those precious steps, testing how far her little legs will carry her!”

“Hali is quite the kid,” Mathew agreed. With that, he took off after his mobile daughter, making her squeal with laughter when she realized he was coming after her.

“Come here you!” He called animatedly, only to send little Hali into more peals of laughter, toppling her over, while the soft grass cushioned her fall.

“Park!” Hali screamed elatedly. Mathew stopped short, realizing what had just happened.

“Grace! Grace! You’re never going to believe this! Hali just said her first word! She said ‘park!’” Hali’s father shouted to his wife.

“You’re such a big girl!” Grace squealed, picking up Hali. “Why don’t we stay in the place where you uttered your first word for a little while longer?”

“PARK! PARK! PARK!” Hali was ecstatic with her newfound word, and said it over and over again.

“This won’t get old,” Mathew rolled his eyes at Grace, all the while, the pride for his daughter shone brightly in his eyes.

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