conversations; speaking with children

Three Little Words in the Land of See and Say

I went to play with Olivia this week while her mom was readying the family for an upcoming road trip. Olivia is talking up a storm, nay a veritable cyclone of words. When her brain outpaces her speech, she sets forth a garbled hurricane of language that only she can decipher. I am in heaven!

They say the eyes are the window to the soul. I’d add that if you’re spending time with a toddler, speech is the window to her mind and her perception of the world in which she lives.  I’ve been waiting for this moment.  Olivia is not only speaking words, but speaking her mind, speaking her observations, speaking delightful conclusions based on her experiences. 

At this age there are no filters, no hesitancy to share whatever percolates within.  This is the age of See and Say. The first time my younger brother saw snow, he said the stars had fallen from the sky. When Olivia’s daddy was her age, he called me into the dining room and began pointing to the topmost shelf where a set of tissue-thin crystal goblets rested safely out of reach.  “Bubbles, Mommy! Bubbles!” Sure enough the glasses, iridescent in the afternoon light, looked exactly like bubbles floating upon slender crystal stems.  To be with a child at the threshold of speech is to be party to magic around every corner. “Doesn’t the snow make you think of God?” Elliot asked me his third winter of life. I don’t even know how much we had talked about God at that point, but the sight of the falling snow called forth something deep within him and he put the feeing into words. An unforgettable gift.

Olivia has the concept of “now” down pat.  Ditto “no” and “Olivia do.” This makes moving from A to B more of a challenge. But that’s a small price to pay for the fun of making silly rhymes and the astonishment I experience when she repeats back to me something she heard weeks before.  (You can bet I am quite judicious in what I say to drivers who misbehave on the road these days.)  Our walks in her neighborhood are filled with notations on the moon, airplanes and clouds. When I bring Olivia to synagogue, the first thing she says when she enters the sanctuary is, “Torah!”  

She slept over for the first time recently and called to us around five in the morning. We brought her into our bed hoping for a bit more shut eye.  It worked until 6:30 or so.  “Olivia, it’s still dark out; still night time.”  “Night over,” she replied quite firmly. “Breakfast.”  Down we went for Cream of Wheat and fruit.  

What must it feel like to be able to express her opinion and be listened to? For that is the other side of speaking, perhaps the more crucial side. Being heard. Having her words acted upon gives Olivia a sense of agency in her life, a sense of trust that those charged with her care take her words, and thus her, seriously.  Not all toddlers are so fortunate. She is surely not conscious of the dynamic but its seeds are being planted in every exchange she has with us and with her parents. It won’t always be smooth. The family definition of cooperate — “Mommy say, Livvy do.” — doesn’t always leave room for the preferences of an opinionated and willful toddler. 

While her mom waded through her packing lists, Olivia and I built towers with her letter blocks and then toppled them into haphazard jumbles of vowels, consonants, roosters, dogs and sheep.  Come snack time, I picked her up, hugged her, and tickled her neck with kisses.  

“I love you,” she said. I simultaneously froze and melted.  “I love you too, Olivia. I love you, too.” 

In the Land of See and Say, snow becomes stars, crystal becomes bubbles and it all makes me think of God. 

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