Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Words and Therapy

Gabby's teacher gave each child in the class a cute stuffed doll - girls got Mary and boys got a Shepard. The doll was very simple and sweet and came in a box that explained how and why it was made, and how Mary loves you and listens to you.

When Gabby and I got home, I cut Mary out of her box so she could hold her. She hugged her and talked baby talk to her (which is so annoying for me...but beside the point) and their budding relationship was going well.

(Mary, in general, has a significance because she is a symbol of sacrifice - a young girl who was told to end whatever young girl dreams she had to be a mother (without even getting a few orgasms out of it...but that's besides the point) and be a blessed, holy mother and step into some sandals with high-standards).

So once Gabby's brother wakes up, the theoretical stimuli of the house rages. And with the heightened antics comes the downfall of Gabby's new relationship. Mary is getting flung around and is used to whack her brother in the head over and over. My first impulse is the usual explanation of why this is not nice to hit her brother and to stop doing it. Then, with the recollection of the previous day's counseling by her teacher of why she can't wear her new rosary beads as a necklace, I decided a confiscation of Mary was warranted along with an explanation about respect. I know why rosary beads should not be worn as flare "like the rap stars" as the teacher said, and I know why blessed virgin replicas should not be used to instigate an "I have successfully gotten under your skin" reaction from as many family members as possible. But the task for me is how to relay that to an almost 5 year old.

My explanation did nothing after the incident. I don’t think she was ready to absorb any reasoning. It's like they are an emotional sponge that is saturated with anguish from losing their plaything (and power as it may be in this situation) and no other words of justification are able to sink into that sponge.

So the next morning on the way to school, she brings up Mary and I take that opportunity to discuss the issue. I ask her to remind us both why I took sweet and soft Mary from her. She tells me because of respect and then asks me what respect means because she doesn't know that word. So I go on to explain to her what you do when you have respect for something because I don't know exactly how to define the word. I tried to lower my comprehension because I tend to speak as if my audience is much older than 4. After I am done, Gabby is quiet for a few seconds and says, "Mama, all I remember from what you just said is "treat her". That’s all I remember".

I laughed. I laughed and further realized that I have no idea how to talk to a toddler. And I further realized how much breath and effort I have probably wasted speaking about concepts that are too mature for kids.

I am a person of words and expression. I love words and language because it can be so chosen, and so expressed to relay what you feel. Feelings are so unique and inexplicable that to come close to putting them into words so that others can know closely what you are feeling is an amazing thing to me and a priceless skill. I love words, and I love thinking and I love understanding and I love explaining and I love writing. For me, whenever I am able to understand what another is feeling from an experience that I may or may not have had, I feel one bit more enlightened. But my kids are not old enough to understand all this and even if they were, this type of strategy may not be as effective for them anyway. For example, I tend to respond to an issue with an explanation that would cover any possible issues that may stem from the central issue at hand. To really bring it home and cover my bases. But I now think I should answer only the question at hand and let my kids ask the subsequent questions as they come to them. Because at least for Gabby, she would be much more absorbent and receptive if she was getting information because she wanted it, rather than getting information that someone else thinks is important. (Yes, she is very stubborn).

I retold this humorous story of Gabriella and Mary to Thomas and recanted my useless conversation. I told him that I understood where she was coming from and I equated it to my experience with other languages, namely Spanish and Italian. I took a few years of Spanish in school and I can communicate simple things in Spanish. So I told Tom that when his family speaks in Spanish or when I overhear other conversations in Spanish or Italian, I have best intentions and attention to follow along. But there seems to be a brain delay and I follow about 5 words in and get stuck on a word. The word needs to enter my brain, get put in a line up to be matched with the various possible English words that it could translate to. Once I have chosen my best guess from digging back in my brain to high school when I learned these things, I take this newly translated word, put it at the tail of the 5 words I am sure of and I am now 6 words in and ready to roll with renewed attention. The problem is, when I left the conversation talking about fish and rice, I am now hearing words about mowing the grass and rocks. Those 30 seconds of conversation has sailed off without me while my brain stumbled over one word. So Gabby is the same - she listened to me and her brain got stuck on the words "treat her" and she was done. She probably went off in a mental day dream-like tangent over these words and paid absolutely no attention to the rest. I actually appreciate her very much for telling me that because it really turned a light on for me.

So I guess, me and my brain decided that we will forgo a proper explanation and give a trivial explanation, which to me isn’t an explanation at all, to retort to these issues of flinging Mary's and rockin' rosaries. I will tell her we should not hit our brother with toys. And we should be extra nice to Mary because she is a very special doll. That's it.

Children are like little walking therapists. When they say the right things, they can teach us by helping us figuring stuff out on our own. Gabby and I just had a break through :)

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