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Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Gift of Gab

My boys weren't talkers.  While Eddie had plenty of words, he was very particular about when he used them (never around a stranger, not often if a simple point and grunt would suffice).  Baby Boy was content to make car noises and animal sounds until well past his second birthday.  If the birth order of my children had been different, I probably would have been very concerned and signing up for speech therapy. Because once Baby Girl came around I discovered something amazing:  toddlers can talk!  And talk... and talk... and talk.

I've always been a talker.  I was, since around nine months of age, "vaccinated with a phonograph needle" as my grandfather would put it.  (A phonograph is a record player.  For those of you who don't know what a record player is, google it.  And you make me feel old.)  I can't help it.  There are words inside of me just bursting to get out.  When I'm in a situation in which talking is frowned upon (church, standardized testing rooms, etc), I literally feel a physical pain in my chest from all the word build-up.  Teachers find this habit irritating.  As a senior in high school my government/economics teacher switched me from desk to desk, trying to find a group of people I wouldn't talk to.  Such a group does not exist.  So she moved me to a desk in the back, surrounded by empty desks.  I talked louder.

I fear the same future for Baby Girl, though I am told she is rather quiet in her Mother's Day Out class.  I'm virtually certain she will grow out of that.  Because at home she talks, non-stop.  Her vocabulary has always been impressive.  While I was telling my mother about Baby Boy's recent trip to the dentist, she leaned over and told her emphatically, "It was a very positive experience."  She talks to all of us, of course, but also to the television during her favorite shows, to her books as she reads them, to her toys as she plays with them, and to herself if no one or nothing else is available.  She even talks in her sleep.

Because of the continuous chatter, sometimes I have to remind myself to LISTEN.  Because the things she says are magical and funny and often really insightful.  She tells stories full of imagination and drama.  Her first story, when she was barely past two, was about a bunny that hid in tall grass and then ran so fast that she could not see him.  Since then we have moved on to fantastic tales of princesses, dragons and even the odd zombie.  Her flair for the dramatic leads to some interesting moments.  Once when we were driving down the road, she started crying.  I could tell the crying was fake, but still glanced back and asked, "What's wrong, baby?"  With her eyes screwed tightly shut she wailed with sincerity, "I CAN'T SEE!"  Aside from the hearty laugh this gave me, I couldn't help but feel a swell of pride at her excellent Method acting skills and envision a career in theatre ahead.

This fanciful streak makes it a little hard sometimes to distinguish between fact and fiction, but that is part of her magic.  There is a fine line between telling a lie and creating a story and I try not to be too strict on this point.  Her mind is filled with rainbows and faeries, exciting adventures and tragic tales and she tells me about them.  I never want that to change.  I want to listen and let her know her words are wonderful things.  I am going to miss her pipsqueak little voice when it matures, will miss the mispronunciations and funny word substitutions of my three year old princess.  But when her voice is all grown up and her stories have changed, I want to change with her.  Instead of just listening, I want to encourage her to use that voice for all its worth.  I want to tell her never to let anyone shame her into silence, to never be so afraid of embarrassment that she shuts up.  (Except, you know, during church or standardized testing.)  I know she already has words inside of her that are bursting to come out and I want to hear every single one of them.  To do that I'm going to have to shut my own mouth (always a challenge), ask more questions, listen more and know less.

It will be a good discipline for me to learn.  As I mentioned, our children are our teachers.  Already she with her gift of gab is teaching me, a perpetual talker, to listen.  Often she presses a tiny finger against my lips and says, "Mommy, be quiet."  It should probably call for disciplinary action, but it never fails to make me laugh, and it is very nearly always because she has something she wants to say and can't get a word in edgewise, so I let it slide.  We'll find our balance and for now I think I'll let her have a 60/40 split.  I'm so grateful to have my little girl to chat with me and look forward to every conversation, every story, even every rant that we have to come.    

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