Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why Can't the Parents Teach Their Children How to Speak?

I finally cracked the code.

I can speak my five year old daughter’s language.

Oh, I know we taught her English, but communication has always been an issue with her. I assumed it was part and parcel of being the fifth child out of eight. I thought she ignored directives on the theory that I wasn’t talking to her. I thought she pouted to be sure she got attention. Now I know better.

My daughter uses purple prose expressions. She likes sugar frosted cereals and pink fairy princesses and over the top sentiment. Moreover, she can be persuaded by use of the same exuberant broad brush painting with words.

How did I discover her dialect?

It was 32 degrees outside.
“Put on your coat. It’s cold.” I said.

“NO!” She crossed her arms and rolled her tongue, making her “ugly face” in response.

Normally I would simply assert my authority and the coat would be on her body. Today, in a moment of maternal weakness, I try to address her actual needs writ large in her defiance. “Look outside. See the frost? I’ve been outside, it’s very cold. Put your coat on.” I thrust the coat in her hands.

“NO!” she repeats and throws the coat on the floor and stomps off.

Torn between, “Oh yes you will wear this coat and I’m putting it on your stomping self right now!” and “Something must be wrong, this makes no sense!” I stall for time and my temper by asking “Why?”

“I don’t want to wear a coat on the playground.” She sobs. She repeats it three times, each subsequent statement becoming more sorrowful and full of deep breaths.

“I’m wearing my coat. It’s cold outside and I want to stay healthy.” My son volunteers, adopting his “virtue boy” voice.

“Thank you son.” I smile and wave him off to the car.

Recognizing he’s not going to get the additional credit at her expense he’d hoped, he sulks off to the car, taking off his coat as he does and pausing by the window to be sure I see him. I rap on the window. “I thought you wanted to stay healthy!” His own words force the coat back on, the cold helps too.
“I don’t want to…”she’s still sobbing.

“Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.” I rub her arms gently to calm her down and try to make eye contact. “I want you to wear your coat so you can be all toasty warm during play time at kindergarten.” She gives me a small smile. I push my apparent advantage.

“I love my daughter and I don’t want her arms cold or for her to not be able to play because she feels uncomfortable. That would be terrible. I want her warm, toasty, ready to go…” The coat goes on in a flash, as do the mittens and the hat, though an older one marches in to switch hats since this daughter is accidentally wearing hers. I wait for the melt down that doesn’t happen and we get in the car.

Something just happened. I asked her to do something and she agreed. Can I do it again? I wonder.

“Hey Precious. Would you do me a great favor to help take care of your brother and sister? It’s a pretty big job…”

“What what what?” She’s all in. I feel vague guilt asking except she’d have to do these things anyway, so I’m just manipulating the mood in which she receives these tasks, I tell myself. “Can you sit in the far back and give the baby her juice? She’s too little.”


Now my brain is abuz with other prospects –doing homework, chores…the whole world suddenly seems open to me via talking to my dauther.

I start looking at the whole incident for what it truly reveals. Each of my kids speaks English, just with a different dialect. Mulling the whole thing over, the next day I try to say the same command to each child. The following are field tested results from a confirmed child whisperer.

Oldest comes down in short sleeved shirt. He’s fourteen so telling him what to wear other than to say “You’re out of uniform, or that doesn’t fit or is dirty,” is out of bounds. I ask him to take out the garbage. He goes to do the job and immediately comes back in for a coat, hat and mittens.

The next comes in to the kitchen. I’m ready for her. “I stuck your coat and hat and mittens In the dryer…” is all I get out. She’s gone to fetch them in a flash.

My middle girl is a bit of a mystery, compliant in many things but always for her own reasons. She loves cold, so the indirect way won’t work. “Which coat are you wearing today? I don’t want a note from the nurse about not wearing proper attire for playground.” She goes to get her stuff.

Virtue boy sees everyone else and tests me. “I don’t want to wear a coat!” “Fine, then you have to wear a sweater. I hold up the sweater.” He hates sweaters. Batting 1000! I think.

Purple prose still works today and I begin thinking I’ve got it down when it all crashes.

Contrary boy has dressed himself. He is wearing shorts. It is 32 degrees outside and he is wearing shorts. He is bragging about dressing himself. We have to get in the car.

I punt. I dress the baby and load her in the car with the others.

She who would be two loves her coat and willingly complies. Still wondering how I’ll do the last one, I'm considering using parental fiat power but don’t want to ruin my average. I’m in the zone, I think, there has to be another way. I get his socks and shoes on and he is singing about superheroes he’d like to be.

“Thank you Son!” I kiss his forehead and run to the linen closet.
Wrapping him in a polar fleece blanket won’t allow me to go anywhere but back home, but it does get us out the door. Super son and I get in the car. Twenty minutes ‘till school. Buckled and bundled, we’re gonna make it. I feel high on parenting…

The urgency in her voice tells me I’m about to crash.

I’m in freefall.

“You forgot to make us lunches!” There are universal cries of pure despair.
“I’ll bring your food before lunch.”
“Before snack?”
Roll, tumble, hit a tree and flip into a ditch and crash again.
“Before snack.”
Mollified, we set out onto the road.

Well, I may have learned the dialect but the universal language is still food.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sherry! I loved reading your blog. My mom forwarded an email from your mom about it. I don't know how you find time to write with 8 kids. Amazing!!! I look forward to reading more.

Your old friend,
Michelle from Beamont/Houston

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