Literary Conversations are for Kids, Too


Book clubs aren’t the only place literary conversations take place.  My granddaughter Olivia and I discuss books every time I read to her.  Our deepest and most prolonged discussions take place around Over in the Meadow, a counting song beautifully illustrated with Ezra Jack Keats’ stunning collages. It has been a treasured favorite since my own kids were read-to-me age.  

In Over in the Meadow, ten mother animals and their babies dig, caw and buzz their way through the sand, nests and  beehives. This book’s version of the song (based on an original text attributed to Olive A Wadsworth) includes, among other creatures, turtles, fish, crickets and an old mother muskrat and her little ratties four. For whatever reason Olivia is obsessed with the muskrat. Our book club conversation begins like this:

“Muskrat!  Muskrat!” she shrieks the minute I arrive, gesturing with her hand a motion of diving into water. I take Olivia into my lap. First we examine the book’s cover. I point to the title and read it aloud; she responds  by pointing to the three baby birds peeping out from the tree.  

“Sing!” says Olivia, recalling from our prior readings that is what the baby birds do when we get to their page. 

Next we turn to the title page, a beautiful collage  of a green field. We examine ferns, maple leaves, and clover before  identifying the two “O’s” in the book’s title.  When we get to the dedication page (to Bernice), Olivia points to the blue dragonfly flitting across the page. “Dagafy,” she says. The dagafly reappears on page two and the baby bluebirds from the cover illustration are still singing to their mother on page three. We depend on and appreciate the illustrator’s foreshadowing of the text by cuing the reader through his art. 

Page four is where our conversation really gets going.  “Muskrat!” Olivia shouts and dives into the text the way Old Mother Muskrat’s little ratties four dive into the reeds on the shore. She identifies a detail of the story not referenced by the text but is a fact she can infer from her own life experience.. “Mommy muskrat hands?” Olivia asks pointing to the mother muskrat’s paws. 

“Yes,” I reply, “Mommy muskrat hands.” Next time I’ll introduce the word “paw.”

Olivia comments on the action in these two pages.  We agree there is a whole lotta diving going on.  We observe that each character is doing something different: swimming, diving, watching from the shore. We extrapolate from the illustration, moving from Mommy muskrat hands to her own and then to mine.

Come the seven crickets, I offer up brief comments about poetry’s convention of visual or sight rhymes (even/seven) and how later in the verse this visual rhyme is repeated in reverse (seven/even.)  We could also discuss how words in the English language evolve, meaning one thing in one era and something else in another. For now though, I leave the gay mother cricket to chirp cheery notes as all mothers — gay or not, crickets or not — chirp with their children. Eight, nine, and ten we bask with the lizards, croak with the froggies and finally shine with the fireflies. 

Although Olivia is not yet two, our conversations about books are lively and expansive. Through them, the English language becomes a word-meadow where a devoted grandmother and her curious granddaughter run free with love and delight. 

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Some Things are Cheap at Costco, but Not This Conversation

Not even two weeks back in Michigan I hit a pothole and blew out two tires. Off to Costco for replacements. As synchronicity would have it, Yuval Harari’s Sapiens was for sale.  Martin read it for book club; Emma devoured it and wanted to discuss it. I’ve been wanting to read it for eons. Thank you, book angels. 

I found an empty table in the food court and began reading when along came a woman who’d been a few tire repairs ahead of me. She had spent the interim time shopping with her teenaged son.

“You’ve found yourself a cozy place to read,” she said.

“Yes,” I agreed.  “This book is terrific.” Only ten or so pages in, I couldn’t share much info but raved just the same. Her son had wandered ahead so I kept my response brief so as not to delay them.  

“I’ll have to get it,” she said. I went back to my book, but she was still standing there. If you’ve read other posts about some of my interactions with strangers, you know that right about now the conversation is going to veer from mundane into marvel.

“My son is fifteen,” she said nodding at the lanky boy who was pushing their cart toward the exit. “I don’t know who he is any more. He attends the IB [International Baccalaureate] school and his grades are tanking. I don’t know what to do. I didn’t raise him in a church but I raised him with God’s Word. He doesn’t listen to me.” I could feel her hurt, bewilderment, frustration.  I remembered it too.

Nineteen years has softened, but not erased, my memories of this difficult year in our son’s life. Fifteen was simply awful. Elliot was oppositional. Defiant. Distant. I could do no right. He was slipping away. I had a recurring nightmare somewhere in that year — Elliot would sleep each night beside my bed in a little nest of blankets, the way he had in childhood. But in my dream he was now an addict. Every morning I would wake and have to watch him die of an overdose all over again. I’m a master at horrific nightmares. Just ask Martin.

Writing these words nearly two decades later I see the metaphor so clearly. My sweet little boy was “dying.” The man he would become had withdrawn into a chrysalis of conflict and contention. Every day that 9th grade year, he slipped farther and father away from me. Yet seven years hence he would write me a poem in which he reflected on the entire arc of our mother/son relationship. In the stanza recounting  high school, he penned the line, “I didn’t know where you belonged/between boyhood mother/ and mom go away.” A decade after that poem, he would return to Michigan with his newly-pregnant wife. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined where we are now.   He sleeps nested beside his beloved in a home not even seven miles away. Their child is the light of our lives. 

I told this tall and attractive mom that when my son was fifteen, I felt that a body snatcher had spirited him away. That it was our hardest year. That it would get better.  And then I stopped advising.  I had no idea if it would get better or where this year of mother-son tension would deliver them by his 16th birthday, much less his 22nd. I had no idea if their future held a multi-verse poem, a multi-year jail sentence or something in between.  Instead of advising, I told her what I knew was true. “It’s a frustrating time, a terrible time. But stay strong. He needs to push against something, against someone. That someone is you because you’re safe, and even if it doesn’t feel like it, he loves you, and his love for you makes this transition all the harder for you both.” 

A hug would have interrupted the rhythm of the conversation; I was seated, she was standing.  I offered her my hand instead and clasped hers in both of mine. “He’s a good boy,” I said. “Keep faith.” My words seemed so ephemeral, even as I said them. Faith can get us through, but there’s no guarantee faith will deliver us where we want to be. She went to catch up with her son and I sent a prayer after them both and turned back to Sapiens.

We human beings have evolved mightily but fifteen remains a horror of a year for parents of sons and daughters. I’m waiting to read what Sapiens says about it. Or what evolution might say about the wonderful ease with which women find common ground,  bearing their hearts, offering and accepting wisdom and comfort whether they find themselves sharing a threshing floor or waiting for tire repairs at Costco.

 

 

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A Conversation about Becoming a Mother

Some twenty five years ago my mother gave me the painting at the left. She’d seen it in a little restaurant in Atlanta that she frequented. I was in the thick of mothering and striving to get a freelance career off the ground. The painting’s message was spot on.  

The mother’s arm holding the paintbrush is rendered awkwardly but the point of the whole painting is the arm holding the flailing baby. Firm beneath her mother’s forearm, Baby just has to chill. Mama is conversing with her Muse, determined to hold on to a treasured piece of herself all the while hip deep into taking care of Baby.  Maybe the babysitter cancelled that morning; or an ear infection kept Baby out of day care. No matter what, Mama has to paint. My mother’s gift acknowledged my struggles to balance work and motherhood.

On a past trip home, my daughter claimed the painting.  “I want you to give this to me when I become a mother,” she said.  “I want the reminder that I can still create art even if I’m a mom.”  I thought of her comment after reading a recent article in the New York Times profiling young women who do not want, or are not sure they want, children. 

While I thought “not having a partner yet” was a sage reason to wait, and others — wanting leisure time and personal freedom — are legit if short-sighted, the one factor that stopped me cold was that a quarter of the respondents to a survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times didn’t think they’d be good parents. A young woman quoted in the article had such, “high expectations for parents that she wasn’t sure she could meet them….I would have the responsibility to raise this person into a functional and productive citizen, and some days I’m not even responsible.”

Heck that’s what it is to be a parent — living up to your own expectations is an ongoing challenge. You won’t always meet meet them. In fact you often won’t. Some days parenting levels you, knocks you on your ass and makes you cry uncle. Those children you are raising?  Little mirrors reflecting you at your worst and your best. This is what it is to be a parent: to grow; to forgive yourself your human failings; to strive to do better.  And this is what it is to be a parent: the littlest things become daily miracles as you watch your baby discover a shaft of sunlight crossing her line of vision, hear his first laugh and bear witness to their growing discovery of their world, a world in which you are the sun, the moon and the stars. Our children summon from within us strengths we didn’t know we had. Ask any parent who’s survived their kids’ adolescence. Or first trip to the hospital. Or broken heart. Or, God forbid, a life-changing diagnosis.

As for the the functional productive citizen stuff? Drop it.  Celebrate your child’s sense of wonder; protect their joy; follow their lead and guide gently. Focus on instilling patience, empathy, manners, honesty, respect.  That’s the stuff of good citizenship, anyway.

My daughter recently expressed many of the same reservations of the women quoted in the article. I held my counsel. Mostly. The thicket of doubts and uncertainties is hers to maneuver. While it’s difficult to wrap my head around the possibility my daughter may choose not to have a child, the painting is hers no matter what. She will determine what her left arm will hold. 

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Big Lessons from a Tiny Person

Conversations with my granddaughter are expanding beyond burbles and trills to delicious mispronunciations that will become the stuff of family lore.  Ohdor means Please open the door. UpDown is a request to read the Olivia book about opposites. More than her darling gymnastics with the English language, Olivia’s actions speak potent lessons. In a single week, this little being who doesn’t yet weigh even 20 pounds, has taught me much.

Lesson 1 —Blissful experiences deserve endless repetition. 

Olivia and her mom were visiting one afternoon when Olivia discovered the little slope of grass abutting our patio. Down she toddled, gathering speed. When she reached the bottom, she lay on her back, threw her arms wide and grinned up at the sky in utter bliss.  If there’d been a cartoon balloon above her it would have read, “Ain’t life just the BEST!!!”  

Again and again she toddled up the slope, ran down and collapsed, looking skyward. She was utterly in the moment, reveling in the joy of her body, in the speed her chubby legs could now take her, perhaps even in the wind caressing pink cheeks. She exulted in the realization that she could experience this again and again and again.

Delight in your experiences. Repeat them. And then again. 

Lesson 2 — Share your love with insistence. 

It was bedtime.  Olivia had been bathed, diapered and PJ’d, read to and read to again.  

“Kiss Aviva good-night,” her mother said, holding her out to me. Olivia covered my face with kisses. She planted sweet love on each cheek, on my chin, on my forehead. She stopped for a minute and I stepped back to leave.  Olivia squealed her displeasure.  I got the message loud and clear.  “I’m not finished, thank you very much. I’m not done giving you my kisses!”  I moved within kissing range and was rewarded with three more, light as a butterfly’s wing. 

The love we give is precious; give it joyously.  If you are fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such love, for Pete’s sake, hang around!

Lesson #3  — Love yourself. 

I can’t draw; lots of skeletons in my creative closet. What my eye sees and what my hand renders do not align. But one day, determined to silence the ghosts, I set out to sketch Olivia from one of my husband’s photos. 

I worked on it for the better part of a morning, studying the fullness of her cheeks, the little round point of her chin. What was the proportion of her forehead to her features? Where do the ears go? The eyebrows? And those eyes! They are swirled with brown, green and blue. Someone called them little earths. I struggled to show the way each strand of her hair feathers across her forehead.  When I was done, it wasn’t an exact likeness but I had captured something about her that was familiar.

One afternoon I showed her the drawing. 

“ME!” she shouted touching a tiny finger to the page .  “ME!!” Then she leaned over and kissed the drawing. 

I was stunned. She recognized herself! Even more moving was the immediate kiss she planted on the drawing. When you look in the mirror, is your first reaction joy or criticism? When was the last time you kissed the mirror when you saw your reflection? I see the lines in my face, not my smile and warm brown eyes. I bemoan middle age spread instead of being grateful for the strong body that takes me hiking and allows me to crawl on the floor with Olivia. I pine for what was, instead of celebrating ME! ME!!  HERE!! NOW!!

Olivia has no reference of what was.  She simply is.  She doesn’t know or care that three months ago she had no hair and now has just enough to make a bonsai-sized palm tree atop her head. She saw a likeness of herself and went to town exulting.  “That’s me! I’m wonderful! I’m OLIVIA!” 

Offer huge smiles and spontaneous kisses to the person in the looking glass. She is to be treasured!

Dearest Olivia, what lessons will you teach me this week?  

Your willing and loving student, 

Aviva

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Of Poetry, Hiking Trails and Spring

A lovely bonus of our hikes out west are the unexpected conversations that come our way. Readers of this column may remember the conversation Martin and I had with a fellow hiker and his sudden revelation of his wife’s recent death. More common are the less intense where-are-you-from? exchanges or the serendipitous six degrees of separation chats that inevitably reveal a connection.

Hiking West Fork late last month, a friend and I were discussing books we had loved as children. I mentioned a favorite and began quoting to her a poem  from Carmen Bernos de Gasztold’s Prayers from the Ark. It is a stunning book of poems voiced from the perspective of Noah’s menagerie. The edition my mother gave me when I was a child has an introduction by Rumer Godden, the book’s illustrator who was fortunate enough to meet the author, a Frenchwoman who became a Carmelite nun toward the end of her life. Trying to recall The Prayer of the Monkey, I recited what I could from memory, “Oh God, why did You give me a face so comical that no one will take me seriously?”

One of the two hikers coming our way overheard me and seamlessly joined our conversation.  “Oh, man,” he replied, “I would take you very seriously! I would never mess with you!” Well, at that point, I had to stop and give the backstory. He wrote down the title (Ha! Wrote down. He took out his cell phone and started tapping.) His friend asked if we’d read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. (Out came our cell phones.) We talked a few minutes more about books and then parted. My friend and I marveled at the cool exchanges that are just a natural part of our hiking experiences. It’s one of the magical things I miss now that we are home and there is concrete, not red earth, beneath my shoes once again.

But yesterday, I was rewarded with a trail exchange. It was a glorious spring day — blue skies, white puffy clouds, the trees just greening up in a way that would inspire me, once upon a time, to recite to the kids Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. A woman was coming out of the bank as I entered.  Our eyes met and then our spirits.  

“Isn’t this a glorious day!” she exclaimed. “It’s simply beautiful.”  

I agreed and mentioned that it was the kind of day  that called me to share a poem with my kids. Taking the kind of chance that is no chance on the trails, but de rigeur, I asked “May I share the poem with you?” She smiled her assent and I began, “Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold…”

After the recitation she agreed and said at this time in spring she looks at the leaf packets with such happy anticipation.

“Leaf packets!” I said. “What a wonderful phrase!”  

“Yes,” she replied. “That’s how they always seemed to me, these little packets of beautiful green just waiting to burst open.” I thanked her for the phrase; she thanked me for the poem and we went our separate ways on the day’s trail.

Magic can happen anywhere, even in a bank parking lot, if you stay open to its shimmer and share a bit of your own sparkle dust along the way.

Resources
Prayers from the Ark (This looks to be the edition my mother gave me.)
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Dandelion Wine

The “boulders” in the foreground are actually the reflection of the canyon walls above.

This is a shot from the West Fork hike. What you are actually looking at is the canyon wall reflected in just six inches of water along the edge of Oak Creek. The reflection was so perfect, so mirror-like that when I approached, the fight-or-flight center of  my brain took over and slowed my steps, so convinced it was that I was at the edge of a precipice and just inches from cascading into the canyon itself. The brain bamboozlement between my eyes and my limbic brain was a hoot. 

 

 

The Prayer of the Monkey
Dear God,
why have You made me so ugly?
With this ridiculous face,
grimaces seem asked for!
Shall I always be the clown of Your creation?
Oh,who will lift this melancholy from my heart?
Could You not, one day,
let someone take me seriously,
Lord?

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A Brave New Step

Jessica and me (2nd and 3rd from right) surrounded by our first participants

When you do something for the first time, there’s no telling how it will turn out. Icarus comes to mind. Gutsy cooks might try new recipes out on company while sager chefs practice a time or two. Sometimes you have no choice but step forward, invite people along, and hope for the best.

That’s where I was last year —  looking for someone to co-lead a workshop I’d dreamed up that integrated movement and conversation. My idea was to weave together yoga postures and conversations on three specific topics.  After striking out with yoga teachers — one of whom said, “I can’t imagine anyone showing up for such a thing!” — a friend introduced me to a  young woman she thought would be a good match.  When I told Jessica what I had in mind, she smiled and said, “I’m in!”  Jess was as psyched as I was to be a part of this never-done-before venture.  I’d found my necessary partner to launch this wild idea combining creative movement and conversation.

Born with many internal organs misconnected every which way, Jessica endured multiple surgeries from birth well into childhood. Along the way her doctors told her, “You will never be able to play at recess, participate in gym class or be active. Your body isn’t strong enough. You will be ill the rest of your life.” Instead, Jess became a dance teacher who has dedicated her life to the healing power of creative movement. “The way I understand it,” she says, “is that when you are physically injured you go see a doctor. Well, what happens when your soul is injured? What do you do then?” For Jess the answer is, “You move.”

Just like that the workshop came together. After brief intros, we decided that Jessica would begin with music keyed to the idea of balance. After ten minutes or so, I would lead a conversation about bringing our lives into balance.  Then back to alternating creative movement and conversation on our next two themes — taking life a step at a time and dealing with cranky people. We’d conclude with a short writing exercise and reflections on the experience.  I booked a studio. We put it out there on social media, posted flyers and told all our friends.

I was a ball of nerves encased in doubt. What on earth had I been thinking? What if no one showed up? What if they showed up and it was awful? What if too many people showed up and we lost the sense of intimacy and safety to move and share freely?  Jessica was completely chill.  She’s guided by the philosophy that what will be, will be and what will be, will be just right.  Less than half my age, she possesses twice my confidence and faith. 

How do you deal with cranky people when they cross your path?

The day of the workshop, four women came eager to experience what we had planned for them. Two got lost on the way because the numbers of the street address had been transposed on one of our mailings. A fifth person never showed and I was sick with worry she went home furious with me because she’d been misinformed.  

Despite all my worries, the workshop was terrific.  Jess chose energizing and inspiring music. It was exhilirating to move freely around a spacious room letting our bodies lead the way. How often do we allow ourselves such an experience? Four was the perfect number for that first class. Each woman was able to partner with two others for the three conversations which meant everyone got to know one another. It was gratifying to see how each card prompted easy and enthusiastic conversations. I learned later that the fifth woman had forgotten all about the workshop.  Jess’ prediction was spot on. What was, was; and what was, was just right. 

We have two more workshops planned for next month. If you want to join us, sign up here. But if you can’t, please use this post as encouragement to try something totally new this year. Don’t let doubts and insecurities hold you back. What will be will be. And what will be, will be just right. Here’s to 2018!

 

 

 

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Conversation is its Own Brass Ring

I haven’t been patronized in a good long while. Maybe I don’t get out enough. Or maybe my vibe is such that no one dares. But it happened a while back and it brought me up short. I was concluding a phone conversation with a successful East Coast business owner. He generously shared resources and his perspective on ways to market Picture a Conversation™. I told him 

“Well, I hope you make a million dollars,” he said.

“A million dollars would be nice,” I replied, “but what I really want is to change some lives.”

After a moment of silence he chuckled and replied, “Change some lives? How…how sweet.” Were this not a phone conversation, I imagine he might have reached out to pat my head.

Admittedly, I’m reading snark into a comment where none was intended, but his words rankled just the same.  Sure I’d like that brass ring to fulfill my want list of million-dollar fantasies, and yes, I continue to work, host conversation workshops, brainstorm and network. Every week I read more articles and book reviews whose message attests to what is happening to society as face-to-face conversations continue to dwindle. What I’ve created, what I’m doing, matters. No brag, just fact. And chutzpadik hope, too.

The truth is I’m doing this because I felt compelled to create something of value and once created, it merited exposure. We all need to text less and talk more. I trust in the power of Picture a Conversation.  Period. People tell me of the wonderful experiences they’ve had using these conversation prompts. A counselor recently wrote that he uses them with a group of couples he meets with regularly. In his latest note he shared that the group spent their entire evening — two and a half hours! — discussing the three questions on just one card! That’s a brass ring right there.

ABWA members got into the conversation one-two-three.

Another brass ring is watching  people beginning a conversation during one of my workshops.  There is this moment of uncertainty and then the room explodes with the sounds and gestures of conversation — laughter, lulls, more talking, head-nods of agreement, hands waving in expression and emphasis. Every workshop validates how deeply people enjoy talking with one another and how deeply they need it.  

A partner and I have just begun to offer Convo-Motion workshops that weave together conversations and creative movement. The first one was a revelation to us all. More are planned.

It’s hard putting myself out there, laying myself bare to throwaway comments that mean little but sting much. Yes, a million dollars would be great. But I haven’t reached sixty plus without recognizing that I’m already blessed with life’s true riches — health, the love of my husband and children, a delightful daughter-in-law and our first grandchild, a wide and deep circle of friends, roof, clothes, heat, food. (All of you Jews out there, are you now doing the old country ppp ppp ppp thing to chase away the Evil Eye? Me, too.) If the dollars come, great. Better, much better, will be thousands of people continuing to use our cards to spark meaningful conversations of their own and drawing closer with one another in the process. Every time that happens, it is very sweet indeed. 

So here are some questions to start conversations with friends, loved ones, co-workers:
• What’s your own brass ring?                                                                                                                               • What about this obsession that money, big money, is synonymous with success?                                  • How do you handle do you do with patronizers?

And here’s your call to action. Purchase a set of Picture a Conversation.  With Christmas and Chanukah coming up, you’ll be giving what no one else will — real face time, offline. Intrigued by the idea of our Convo-Motion workshop? Email me — debra a pictureaconversation dot com — and schedule one. Thank you.

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Counting the Numbers

Our teacher looked out at the yoga students doing warm-up stretches on their mats.  “Success!” he exclaimed. “This is the first class to ever top 20 students.”  Twenty-two pairs of hands began clapping. “Way to go!” someone shouted out. “Yeah!  All right!” chirped another.

As I joined the applause a very un-yoga thought surfaced.  Hey wait a minute! What about all those mornings I and a handful of others showed up for your first Kundalini yoga classes? No crows of success back then.  Quick as a vinyasa sequence, other peevish thoughts bubbled up.  What about those of us who used to get up at 5:30 AM to make it to a 6:00 AM class? Today’s “success” is built on the arched backs of a devoted few who began practicing Kundalini yoga nearly a decade ago. Without us back then, none of you would be here today. 

At the same time I was thrilled for our teacher.  Becoming a Kundalini instructor takes huge commitment. I admired, and was grateful for, his dedication. And it was indeed cool to look out and see yoga mats fanned out across the entire room.  I understood his excitement.  Bigger numbers meant additional income and more secure teaching slots, two quite tangible yardsticks of success.

Deep into this second year since we launched Picture a Conversation, I have my own yardsticks of success.  I’m nowhere close.  My largest sales have come from toy stores and a hospital gift shop for ten boxes each.  Exciting at the time, but I have my sights and hopes set on much higher numbers. Yet to discount those orders, to discount the orders of ones and twos is to ignore the full arc of hard work we have put into this venture. Every order matters.  Every order is valuable in and of itself even as it is a stepping stone to something larger.

The deeper lesson is to celebrate the immeasurable successes, to inhabit proudly and gratefully the territory where numbers are irrelevant. Every time a person has a meaningful conversation inspired by one of our cards, there is success.  How could I measure the value to a mother who learned things about her adult children that she never would have known had she not ordered one single set?   How long into the future will their conversation continue to resonate, bringing delight and comfort?  There’s no quantifying the love and wisdom that were brought forth the afternoon a pre-teen daughter fanned through the entire set of cards, drew one out and said, “Mommy, I want you to answer these questions. I want to know this about you.”  That one card sparked a conversation that might not have happened otherwise.  These are the true success stories.

We can’t escape the numbers game. The numbers matter. As long was we don’t forget that what cannot be numbered matters more.

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Conversations that Count — Baby Talk

This week I thought I’d share a conversation that counts in my own life.                                                  Fifth in series from Picture a Conversation™.


E
very parent has his or her favorite childhood stage. For some it’s infancy. For others it’s when the terrible twos have passed and the fearsome fours are far on the horizon. For me it was when my kids first began to speak.  If they thought it, they said it. No filters; no holding back. It was a magical time of spontaneous poetry when crystal goblets were likened to bubbles and a snowfall prompted my son to ask, “Doesn’t the snow make you think of God, Mommy?”  What better gift than the year my daughter said she would give me her laughter for my birthday?  

I’ve been anticipating the conversations my seven-month-old granddaughter and I will have one day. What will her spontaneous poetry be? What questions will she ask? What marvelous word mash-ups will become part of Olivia’s family lexicon, the way “sing-a-God” became ours when our daughter couldn’t quite pronounce “synagogue”?

I never imagined that Olivia’s and my first conversation would have arrived so soon.  Strapped into her magenta high chair, she was exploring finger foods scattered on the tray in front of her. She held something aloft — a soft spear of zucchini?   “B!” she said, and looked up at me.    “B!” I replied smiling back. She froze, and I could see the wheels turning as she processed the implication of our one-letter exchange. “B?” she asked. “B!” I replied.  She responded with an alphabet soup of sounds that I mimicked back to her. She smiled and waved chubby banana-smeared fists.  I smiled back. 

In any conversation one party speaks and the other affirms. One party takes the conversation in a new direction and the other party follows. Emotions are exchanged. New terrain of thought is explored. There is engagement, eye contact. A small sweet universe of communication comes into being, spinning on an axis of sharing and active listening. 

Fortified with nothing but a consonant and some babble, Olivia and I had our first conversation.      It was delicious. I eagerly await the next course.  

 

(Craving the connection that only a face-to-face conversation can bring?  Head on over to our order page and give yourself the gift of conversation. Have a conversation that counted in your life? Email me — debra at pictureaconversation dot com.  I’ll get in touch to interview you about your on conversation that counted.)  

 

 

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Conversations that Count — Watching is Learning

Two years after her own husband died, Chelsea’s mother worried that her daughter would turn to the drugs and alcohol readily available on campus as a way of managing her grief over her father’s death. A client put her fears to rest. Fourth in series from Picture a Conversation™.

 

Chelsea was only fifteen when her dad died. Somehow we got back on our feet. In the months and years that followed, I never wanted her to feel I was pressuring her, so I let Chelsea come to me when she wanted to talk.

But as time passed and she began applying to college, I was so afraid that whatever Chelsea hadn’t shared since Dave died had been building up inside. When she got to college, I would have no way of knowing how she was doing. I was so fearful that she would use drugs and alcohol to escape whatever feelings and memories she was keeping inside.

One day, I was in the middle of cutting a client’s hair and told her my fears. Our eyes met in the mirror and she told me to put down my scissors.  She spun her chair around to face me and said, “Are you serious? Are you kidding me?”  

I didn’t know what to say back. Of course I was serious.  How could she have missed that?  I just kind of looked blankly at her and stammered something like, “Yeah, I’m serious.”  

What she said next changed everything.  “Tina,” she said.  “You are the strongest woman I know.  You have met the worst that life can throw at you — your husband’s long illness, his death, financial worries, all of it — with incredible strength.  Chelsea has been watching you. She doesn’t need drugs or alcohol.  You have shown her how to handle whatever she needs to handle. Chelsea will be fine. Chelsea is fine.”

I kid you not, I had never, not even once, thought about it in that way — that Chelsea could have been watching me and taking her cues from me.  I’d shared my fears with a lot of clients.  Not one of them had ever said anything like what this client said. My mom dealt with breast cancer. My father had a nervous breakdown. He lost his job.  Mom never complained. I watched her make it through all that and more, but never considered that Chelsea would be watching and learning from me as I had watched and learned from my own mother.  

A few weeks ago Chelsea and I were watching a movie. One of the characters had lost a parent and was blaming her bad choices on the parent’s death. “I just HATE when they show it like that,” she said.  “It’s just such a stupid way to behave!

Chelsea had to join the Life-is-gonna-throw-some-bad-stuff-your-way club way too early. There are no guarantees life won’t throw more bad stuff her way.  But if it does, Chelsea will be fine. She is fine. Just like my client said.

 

(Craving the connection that only a face-to-face conversation can bring?  Head on over to our order page and give yourself the gift of conversation. Have a conversation that counted in your life? Email me — debra at pictureaconversation dot com.  I’ll get in touch to interview you about your on conversation that counted.)  

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