I don’t like to think of myself as a ‘shouty mum’ necessarily, but I do rely on a reasonable sprinkling of “No you can’t eat that!” and “Put that down right now!” and, “Get back in there and wash your hands!”
Tonight disaster struck.
I have tonsillitis and whilst it has caused me a lot of pain to speak I have, for the most part, been able to communicate verbally with my children. This evening I am officially voiceless. Well no, I’m not quite Ariel. But just because the Sea Witch hasn’t totally stolen my ability to make noises, she has made it so speaking is so damn agonising that I’m not doing it. It’s just too damn painful.
With Jonathan here to take point with my step son, I was left to the baby and Miss Rose, and the prospect of doing bedtime when I was left with finger clicking, gesticulating, and the occasional stern glare.
I suspect this is due in part to her extreme empathy, but we made it work well. She wanted bedtime stories but chose books she knew well enough that she could ‘read’ herself with just encouraging nods and smiles from me. When I wafted my arms at her to go to the toilet she trotted off without question. I pointed at the taps and she washed her hands. She announced very seriously to Jon and Z that I had lost my voice and that they needed to be quiet (I’m not sure why) and be gentle with me.
As I did her teeth and then changed her into her pyjamas I noticed she had stopped speaking as well. She climbed into bed and I sat down next to her and tapped her pillow. She shook her head and folded her arms. I tapped her pillow again. She shook her head and waved her arms around. I made stern eyes and tapped her pillow more sternly. She sighed huffily and lay down.
I signed at her that I loved her. I tapped my chest, made a heart shape with my hands, and then tapped her chest.
For a few minutes she moved her fingers around, watching them intently, bending them, pushing them together. Then she nodded and looked at me very solemnly. She tapped her chest, held up her hands in a heart shape, and then tapped my chest. She loves me too.
Other than the baby who was merrily blowing rasperries at us both from my lap, it was genuinely a beautiful moment of silent communication.
She stayed silent for a while. After the lights went out she tried practicing making different shapes with her hands and when I put my hand over hers to stop her, bedtime isn’t for playing, she tried to silently communicate that she wasn’t enjoying having her game stopped. Then she remembered that she could talk and tried to verbally protest but some stern face and a finger wag and she promptly gave up.
It was really interesting to see how not only she understood what was wrong, she worked out how to communicate with me, and she gave up speaking to use the method of communication that I was using even though it was less precise and harder to use. It was amazing that she was willing to obey my instructions despite them being issued with pointing and her knowing I was physically incapable of shouting at her if she disobeyed. She is by no means the kind of child who never does wrong and whilst I said I don’t like to think of myself as a ‘shouty mum’, a ‘shouty mum’ I regularly seem to find myself being. Especially at bedtime.
So why was she doing it? Why was she responding so instinctively so silent signing, and why was she opting to communicate through signs herself?
Children are amazing little creatures. Yes she is incredibly empathetic, and will cry herself if somebody else is hurt, and will get incredibly excited about things she has no comprehension of just because somebody else is feeling it. But it can’t just be that, because children do seem to do this. I remember being a child on a foreign holiday and befriending children of varying nationalities and somehow being able to communicate with them. Children with very little language of the same nationality manage to forge friendships and play from a young age.
This instinctive desire and ability to communicate with people in any way that works is something we should celebrate and something I think is really tragic we lose. Instead we seem to demand that the people we are speaking to adapt to our own ways, conform to what is easiest for us. Children listen without prejudice and take equal part in the responsibility of making that communication work, even if what they’re listening to is silence. They still listen and hear what isn’t being said.
We could, as ever, learn a lot from our children if we were only willing to listen to how they speak.
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Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!