A little while ago, my friend Margaret (remember her from the Blessingway?) and I were in a big store in the Big City, looking for some fabric to make a window blind. Margaret’s baby was in his pram, keeping quiet, Alt.D2 was sitting in my shopping trolley, amusing herself with something probably entirely inappropriate, and Alt.D1 was talking. She was talking the hind leg off a donkey. No, more than that, off the donkey, down the hill, round the corner and back again! My head was buzzing, I couldn’t make a decision, I just needed two seconds of QUIET!
I turned to Alt.D1 and asked her:
“Are you on fire?”
Silence. Puzzled look.
“Then it can wait just one second, can’t it?”
Margaret creased up with laughter, Alt.D1 was a bit confused (and therefore quiet for about 30 seconds), and the decision on the fabric was made.
The day before, we had been doing our grocery shop, and I had forgotten my list. Trying to recall what we needed, I explained to Alt.D1 that I needed a tiny little bit of quiet inside my head to think about the shopping, but all I could hear was her chattering, going in my ears and filling my head… could she please stop talking for a moment so I could work out if we did, in fact, need soap or cheese?!
Of course, I think she is lovely, she really is, and the incessant crying of her early months gave way pretty quickly to real words and coherent conversation. At 10 months old, she was pointing at a friend’s dog calling “dog dog dog dog dog doggggeeeee” and pushing her breakfast over the edge of her highchair to the waiting jaws of her new best friend and biggest fan. From then on, the words just came tumbling out of her mouth. Now, at rising four years old, she will say to me “Mummy, we’ve had this conversation before” (the implication being that she knows how it ends and she doesn’t like it!) and I swear if she could, she would raise one eyebrow as she says it.
I have always talked to both Alt.D1 and Alt.D2 as if they could understand what I’m saying, even from day 1. Eventually (like now) they can understand, and they can talk back. I really believe that Alt.D1’s (comparatively) early verbal skills saved us from the worst of the terrible twos. “Use words, please!” I would ask when the bottom lip started to tremble and the foot started to stamp.
Now she is big enough to verbalise most things, and smart enough to figure out how to get us to understand when there are gaps in her vocabulary. Last week we went to the local Wetlands Centre, where we are members, for Alt.D2’s birthday. We had a great time, and I said we could come back again another day, because we’ve got a special ticket that lets us in whenever we want. Walking back to the car park, the conversation went along these lines:
Alt.D1 “You are a loud person, so you can come whenever you want”
Me “I’m not that loud! I was quiet looking at the baby moorhens!” (We all were – they were very cute)
Alt.D1 “No, you are a loud person!”
Me “Am I? I was trying to be quiet.”
Her (getting a bit frustrated with me) “No, Mummy, I mean you are a welcome person, you are allowed to come back whenever you like, because of the special ticket!)
Me (feeling a bit stupid for not understanding in the first place) “Oh. Yeah. I am. You’re right.”
Sadly though, the “Use words” trick doesn’t always work now. She uses the words, we still don’t comply with the request, and the tantrum is thrown. Sometimes it’s thrown with a fair amount of force, too. Even with the big words that little girl has, sometimes they are not enough to express the injustice of “No, sorry, you can’t have a third chocolate biscuit just before tea time.”
Sometimes my own communication skills could do with a bit of work, and sometimes I am not quick enough off the mark when it comes to saying the right thing to diffuse the situation. I have just re-read the first chapter of the really excellent book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I read the first chapter about 8 months ago, when Alt.D2 was still quite little. I haven’t managed to get back to it until now, and this time I am going to commit to it a bit more.
The book was recommended to me by my health visitor when she came to visit me at home one day. She’s one of a rare breed of health visitors. She is non judgmental, and actually very nice. She suggested that if I could develop the way I communicated with Alt.D1, I might be able to catch the difficult situations before they took hold. She realised that I was busy with the new baby, and that Alt.D2 was (naturally) playing up due to the fact that I only had one pair of hands. She was bored by the baby and wanted my attention.
It was a bit like a light being switched on, and at the same time a reminder that as parents, we have a responsibility to put ourselves in our children’s shoes from time to time. We, with the benefit of years of life experience, have the ability to imagine what they might be thinking. They have not yet developed empathy, and they sometimes don’t even understand their own emotions, let alone the effect they are having on ours
So in truth it is actyally helpful that Alt.D1 is such a talker, however tired my ears might be. Considering we just got home from an eight hour round trip to North Wales in a small car with a big chatterbox, they are pretty tired right now. She can (and does) articulate her feelings, which helps me to help her.
She says funny and lovely things, and I hope she never changes.
But it is so nice and quiet round here when she’s asleep!
Edit: I’ve just re-read this post and it sounds like “My child is so clever…” It really wasn’t meant like that, honest! 🙂