Thursday, June 29, 2006

maternal linguistics

I am the best mama I can be in a cafe. It's one of the truths of my parenting, that my child and I relate best in public, and we're known and admired in a few select (non-seed and nut-serving, soy drink providing) cafes in the area. We go two or three times a week, sit and read books together, perhaps eat a packed snack, and generally reconnect without the press of other Things To Do. I first came to know the saga of Bindy and Blake at a cafe, and I learned about the class bully while sipping a hot, frothy drink. Which was a good thing, since it kept me from marching right out to roar at the kid's mother.

I tell my partner that this is cafe therapy, that it's a time that lets me feel good as a parent and helps me connect with our eldest. Communication with drink in hand, sitting around a teeny, tippy table: somehow the words just work better.

I spend a lot of time talking: when I cook, I often have a small audience. Inevitably, I begin my monologue. "This is a potato - poe-tay-toe. I will wash it with water, and then it will be wet and clean. See? Clean. Now I will cut it and put the pieces into the pot."
Or, "we're going to wash and then cut up the potato. If you hold it under the water and rub, the dirt will come off. Give it to me when you are done, and I'll cut it up."
Even when I'm alone, I can't seem to quite stop talking. Especially when I'm driving and pass a fire truck or construction vehicle. Then, on autopilot, my arm is flung in the appropriate direction and my mouth says, 'Look, boys! it's a [ ].'

Firemen, seeing the outflung arm move, tend to look for the kids in the car, and often smile and wave. I can only hope that, seeing my empty carseats, they are ever so slightly sympathetic? Or at least are driving fast enough that they don't laugh in earshot.

I assume that this is inevitable. I adored teaching, partly because I got to talk so much. I love unfolding the world to my boys with language, teaching them to name, interpret - you get the picture. I talk. They listen - sometimes.

Recently, I was introduced to a pair of perspectives on the subject of maternal chatter, and the lessons that come with it. First up is this:
building an argument , which points out that women have the bulk of the input on childhood linguisitcs, and the values conveyed therein. This is an argument that even the poster doesn't quite believe, and I'm not sure that I do, either. But I like the paradigm shift from winning an argument (argument as competition - think any political discussion here), vs argument as a vehicle for communication and cooperation.

I've discovered that it's easy to hammer my eldest with language, talking endlessly about something so that too often the punishment for a crime is listening to me discuss the act, the implications of the act, and inquiring as to what he plans to do now? To do differently next time? I discovered the power of my voice when I had paused, one time, looked at his blank face and said, "Allow me to rephrase." Horrified, he said, "oh, no, Mummy - don't rephrase!" I grinned slightly, and did.

And while it's easy to look at his stubborn, set little face and tell myself that he's not listening, I now know better. He recently developed a lisp, to his father's intense irritation. I noticed that the lisp was actually a control issue, and carefully explored it. Eventually, he admitted that "th" was a happy, nice sound, while "ss" was an angry sound. So he'd chosen to rework his language to convey his preferred emotion.

I was impressed by the nuance of his understanding, and decided that perhaps my droning voice was more of a verbal club than an invitation for cooperation and, yes, communication. Clearly, the best thing that this chattering mama could do is shut up. And this is what I heard:

(sung by a small boy, happily sitting on the toilet.)
oy oy oy oy oy oy
wish I could have my [unintelligible]
then I could [unintelligible]
but somebody stole it
and they didn't know who my other name was
I didn't like it because it wasn't nice
and so I decedide to say bring me back
My [first name] [hyphenated last name]
And all my days could be a different day
or another one
or in a jail, which no-one has discovered

dinner tonight:
rice pasta with lots of sauteed garlic, a can of tuna and another of salmon, lemon zest, fresh chives and fresh thyme.
roasted veggies

The result: a happy eating boy, an equally happily full set of parents, and one quieter and bemused mama. Night, all.


Auntie A said...

mmm...your menus always leave me drooling. (I know, I know, if I want to experience them in person I must hie myself down to the People's Republic of Cambridge. I'm working on it, honest!)

mama o' the matrices said...

Just so long as we're clear on the terms...

dykewife said...

when boy was about 3 years old he finally allowed us to toilet train him (before that he would run screaming from the bathroom). we applauded each success and cleaned up the accidents without fuss and rather quickly he was going on his own. why do i tell you this? why to set the stage for the next paragraph, of course. :)

bran played darts. he played 3 nights week and also the weekly pub tournament on saturday afternoons. around this same time there he was, surrounded by beer drinking dart tossers, virtually all macho men, puffing out their chests at getting 100 points and more. then all of a sudden bran (oh, he's 6'6" tall and rather beefy with that - hairy too) announced that he had to "go potty" and off he walked.

everyone stood around looking at each other blankly and then what he said finally sunk in. riotous laughter all round.

communication can be a very fun thing. oh, and i'm going to try your pasta recipe, but probably without the fish :) maybe chicken...

mama o' the matrices said...

Only a guy that big could get away with it, dykewife. Or maybe that's just where I grew up...

Yup, it's a weird wonderful thing, that communicating. How was the chicken?