Mr. M entered that frustrating stage of toddlerhood where the language input is a vast playland, but the verbal output is excruciatingly minimal. “Ungh” and “eeeeehhhhhh!” apparently have two separate meanings but those meanings can evolve based on circumstance. Understanding early toddler language is worse than learning English as a second language. Using sign language as a bridge is helpful, but overall I feel as if I should be able to list “translator” on my resume following the job of raising non-verbal humans.
A while back, one of the children came home complaining that a boy at school had been kicking during meeting time. We talked about the appropriate course of action – asking politely to stop, getting the teacher to help. In this case, both of those avenues had been pursued. “Why would he hurt us?” they asked.
Well, I said, sometimes kids need something and they don’t know how to ask. Sometimes they don’t even know what they need, they just feel like someone needs to give them something, so they use whatever is available. Sometimes that means people hit or use unkind words, or don’t use words at all.
I wish these were isolated incidents. Yet life seems to be about learning our needs and how to express them in a way that actually fulfills them. How often do I crave connection and try to find it in the bag of Peanut M&Ms? Or seek approval through making loud and inconsiderate comments? What I’m asking for is love, but I never use those words.
What if we began to see all of the ways in which people simply don’t use the proper words? The rude person behind us in the checkout line. The irate driver in the lane behind us. The explosive father. The overly-involved mother of the playgroup. The disengaged husband. The drunk neighbor.*
We’re all seeking something and often it takes a lifetime to figure out both what it is and how to ask it of others. Our frustration grows as they don’t respond appropriately, giving us more milk instead of green beans, but we only have the sign for “more” and “more” of what remains a mystery.
Back in the day, my partner-in-crime, Kristy, would reach a point of stress and frustration and turn to me and say, “what I need for you to do for me is…” and she laid out exactly what was expected of me. Sometimes it was “5 minutes of quiet” or “carry this box to the other room.” Imagine if we all utilized this skill? Mommy, what I need for you to do for me is give me a hug. Dear, what I need for you to do for me is keep the kids for 2 hours so I can remember my personhood outside of their existence. Church friend, what I need for you to do for me is express you’ve forgiven me in a way that I can move on without always feeling I “owe” you.
Let us learn our words. Let us be patient with those who don’t know them yet. And let us teach others how to use them.