Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back Link Communicating with a Non-Communicator

In the next few months we, the co-authors of the Red Tent blog, have decided to write about parenting. I thought that I might first write about learning to communicate with children whose nature does not appear to be communicative. Ok, I’m talking about my Nomad Son.

When Nomad Son was young, in kindergarten, the standard answer to any question about his wellbeing, the going-ons of the day, the birthday party he just attended, was, “Fine”. Now, sixteen years later the answer to nearly all my questions is still the same. At times, I find this really difficult to accept.

My difficulty stems from the fact that I was raised in a family where everyone talked. Talk, talk, talk, the whole day through. My mother, my two sisters, brother, father, and I were constantly competing for centre stage. What do you expect? We have Irish blood flowing through our veins! Gossip, banter, storytelling, complaining, worrying were all things just waiting to be shared with the next person who entered the room. They were not things that could be kept inside.

So, imagine this scenario... Nomad Son enters my life and proves to be someone with a huge heart, a quick intellect, and quiet curiosity and no need to talk. At two, he hums his way though the day. At three, he learns to speak, but talks only when he needs something to eat or drink. And so he is to this day: a kind, intelligent, curious, quiet, non-communicator.

You might think being in Nomad Son’s company would be a wonderful contrast to the noisy verbosity of everyone else. And, 99% of the time it is so. But, there is the small matter that he is a teenager now, and like all teenagers experiencing, experimenting, searching, and bumbling his way through various new situations.

As a mother, I’d reallyreally like to know how he is doing. And, “Fine” just doesn’t make the cut as a response to my concerned probing. I’d like to know how he is coping Deep Down Inside, and not just in passing. Yes, there is a possibility that he doesn’t know the DDI, and there’s even a larger likelihood that he has no inclination to communicate this knowledge with his mother. So, what am I left with?

What I’ve come to realise is that I have to sharpen my senses. I must try (even if I’ll only succeed rarely) not to interpret or hyperbolise what he says. Instead, I must look at the quantity and frequency of communication and not the quality and intensity. Does this make any sense?

Even more importantly, I have to, as I did before he learnt to talk, learn to read between the lines of his Spartan verbal communication: the tone of his voice, facial gestures, ease of eye contact, and readiness of laughter. For talk is talk, but an image is worth a thousand words. Seeing Nomad Son smile and laugh at some ridiculous family joke will just have to pacify my fearful mothering heart for the moment.


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