Friday, July 5, 2013

Polite society and language

A few big things have come down the language pike. "Thank you" and "Excuse me." The latter is especially sweet when Beren is talking to a plant. 


I get an strange feeling when Beren learns a social custom, like polite language. I feel like he is giving up a bit of his primal self. It is for good reason that he learn these things, so that he can be among other people, but I like his naturalness.


When Jared and I taught him to say "Please," I felt creepy because politeness became part of negotiations. Beren would tilt his head, smile, and say "Peaze" after we told him "No." It seemed too sophisticated, too manipulative.  


Then at times, Beren would ask to nurse, and I would decline. Once or twice, I asked him to say "please", to mitigate and slow his demands. (See how fickle parents are? They love their child's primal nature, until they don't!). Upon hearing him say please, I realized it was a terrible mistake to make my son say please to nurse. As a toddler, his need to nurse is because he is hungry, thirsty, bored, tired, hurt, in need of attention, wants closeness, quietness. I saw the word "please" slipping into a battle cry. I'm not ready for the showdown in the store, PLEASE CAN I HAVE THIS TOY. PLEASE? PLEASE?


Maybe we should wait to teach children to say please until they understand its adult context, "I am asking you for something. I am interrupting you and appreciate your efforts on my behalf." I will have to think this one through. 


More on politeness...

When Beren meets new people, adults or children, he watches them. He is silent. He doesn't tell them his name. He doesn't tell them his age. He hardly says his own name, and I haven't bothered to explain his age to him. It hasn't felt important or meaningful, perhaps to me, but not to him. And so, when adults query, "How old are you? Are you this many? Or this many?" He watches their fingers gesture and makes no reply.


I often wish adults would be more like children when they communicate to my quiet child. "Hi! Look at my truck, wristwatch, basket, etc. See what it does?!" Show, don't ask questions. Be warm, be friendly. Be concrete, be present.


Yesterday we picnicked along the Navesink River in Rumson. I stopped myself from telling him to not splash two young Latina sisters while we waded in the River. And so, I watched Beren communicate in his own way with the girls, splashing them and smiling. I watched his face. He was happy. The girls were not. They were not unhappy, but puzzled at the interruption in their own quiet play. An oblivious white toddler was splashing them. His white mother waded nearby, silent. I felt pleased that he made a gesture at communicating, and would not clamp down on his mistake of splashing strangers.


For much of the afternoon, the girls had played closely and in near silence, except to answer their mother or father in Spanish. I wondered if Beren felt some kinship. He, too, moving in worlds where he speaks a different tongue than those around him. 


About a year ago, my doctor and I discussed Beren's silent nature. "Think of yourself in a foreign country. You can't speak like everyone else can. You clam up. You are quiet,"  she said.


Hours after being at the park, Beren uttered his first words to our picnic companions - my parents, my brother, Adam, his girlfriend, and a few of his friends. Our company exclaimed over the brief sentence, probably something like, "More of it." Meaning, "More watermelon."


We swam after our lunch, and Beren hardly wanted to return to the picnic area. Adam held his protesting nephew. As we strolled across the grass towards the benches, one of Adam's friends asked, "When do they talk in full sentences?"


"They're all different," I said.


Adam, a once teacher and now sports instructor, added, "Some of them you can understand perfectly. Then some talk, and you look around, and say, "Mom? Could you interpret that?"


No comments:

Post a Comment