Thursday, July 7, 2011

Superpowers 201: Speaking Kid

Apparently I do not speak the same language as the rest of my family. I have ample evidence of this. I first noticed that something wasn't right when my kids started translating for me. I would say "Put that away, please." and one of my other children would turn the person I had just spoken to and say "Mommy wants you to put that away." They do this immediately. Not a few minutes later, not after the child had walked off, and certainly not after being asked by me to carry out this message.

As I started noticing this phenomenon I tried to stop it. I now find myself saying "Why did you do that? Did I ask you to say that? Do you have some kind of authority in this family? Did I not speak clearly the first time?" Each time I am regarded with expressions of shock and confusion, as if they don't understand what I am talking about. Occasionally I will get a response along the lines of "But he wasn't listening." or "I was just trying to help." I find this completely baffling.

Another evidence that I speak another language is that my children often respond to comments or instructions that are not directed at them. Even if I say the name of the child I am addressing every child in the room will launch into immediate protests about how they didn’t' know they were supposed to do such-and-such or they are innocent of the specified crime. I am most shocked when my 11 year old responds to comments addressed to my 18 month old. "I didn't throw my food on the floor!" "Why do you want to change my diaper?" or even "I just had a bath why do you want me to take another one?" Sometimes I think he is he joking but very often he is quite serious. I suspect he believes that since he is the oldest child, everything I say is directed at him, some subconscious claim that I am his mother and the other children are just visiting.

The most upsetting evidence that I do not speak "kid" is the fact that they simply do not listen. Oh sure, they listen when I get their attention or when I am speaking to them casually. But when I start telling them things to do or not do, they seem to glaze over. I have experimented with tone of voice, I have simplified my vocabulary, I have tried different volumes and even body language but to no avail. I will say "didn't I just tell you...." and they will frown and say "You said something but...." shrugs. Sheepish grins. contemplative squinting. So I try again. Very slowly and plainly. "Put your clothes in the drawers." Sometimes this gets action but sometimes I get a confused, straining look, as if they are struggling to understand my words.

This reminds me very much of the experiences I had in Belgium, trying to find the right words in a French /English dictionary to tell the mailman that we didn't know the Schumakers or apologize to the neighbor for scaring his sheep.

And so with a daily multitude of these kinds of moments, I have generally come to accept the fact that I am talking to hear my own voice and that nothing I say matters in the slightest. With this mindset, a kind of low expectations=fewer disappointments philosophy, I have been shocked to learn that my children are turning into decent people. I mean, I never expected they would become criminals or divas but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had kind of given up the idea that I was molding them into something specific and accepted that the potter’s wheel was turning at break-neck speeds and all I could do was keep the clay from spinning off.

I am not completely surprised. It isn’t that they are bad kids. I am just surprised that some of what I say gets through. I could give lots of examples, like when my 8 year old son helped me fold a load of laundry without being asked or when any one of them comes to me and says “I had a bad dream but I prayed like you told me to and I wasn’t scared anymore.” But I want to share something that happened just recently.

My 8 year old daughter was baptized in January. Since then she has been determined to bear her testimony every Fast and Testimony Meeting. She said “I was baptized, that means I have a testimony and I have to share it.” She is shy and nervous but she valiantly marches up to the stand and says her 2 or 3 sentence testimony. She is getting more confident, which brings me to the real story.

She has been struggling in school, mostly with reading. Her teacher recommended that she attend a summer literacy camp where she got intense reading help for 2 hours a day. It was a pain in the behind. It was from 10-12 every day. I had to drag all the kids back and forth each day. We couldn’t really do anything in the mornings because there wasn’t enough time any way you sliced it. And she didn’t seem to make much progress. I was feeling like it was a real waste of time.

One day, out of the blue, she came home and announced that her teacher needed to come to church with us. Apparently she had brought her daughters to school one day, dressed in tank tops. My daughter said she knew right away that they didn’t go to our church because they were not modest. Then she said that they really needed to come and she wanted to tell her teacher about the church. We discussed it for a few minutes, her enthusiasm bubbling over. I suggested that she take a Book of Mormon to her teacher. She jumped on the idea, wrapping it in pretty wrapping paper and writing her teacher’s name on the tag.

I was so nervous for her. I prayed that it would go well. I was so worried that her little, tender testimony would be crushed.

It wasn’t. It turned out that her teacher had grown up with a close friend who was a member. She had attended many church activities as a youth and spoke very fondly of those experiences.

I told my daughter how proud I was of her. She frowned at me and said “Why? I didn’t do anything big or special. I just gave her a Book of Mormon. That’s a little thing. What’s so great about that?” I explained that many adults don’t even do that. “I don’t know why.” She said “It’s not like it’s hard.”

Well, I was beyond words I was so proud of her! It wasn’t the kind of proud like I had done something great. It was a kind of awe that she was going down the right path. And a little celebrating because that meant I hadn’t completely screwed her up!

So, although the kids still translate for each other and we still have those “Belgian moments” where I don’t seem to be getting through, I guess they are the exceptions. It seems that the language barriers come up during the mundane, everyday talking and not the important stuff. This gives me hope. Even if they are staring off into space or playing with legos while I try and explain why they need to pray or the importance of being kind I guess I will just keep talking!

No comments: