Wednesday, June 20, 2007


It has occurred to me over the course of the past few years that children often think parents are clueless. I mean out and out, fell off the turnip truck this morning, can't see past the end of their noses clueless. In considering what might have caused this, I've come to believe that the Lord created them with this rather large, inept concept, present at birth, in order to give parents a leg up. I suppose it makes up for the lack of a manual that would come with each child, detailing their specific temperament and how best to deal with it as well as a glowing prediction of their future success no matter how much we blow it while raising them. But all things considered, I think I'd prefer the manual. :)

Around here, the word "What?" is one of the main keys to figuring out just where they think we are on the ladder of understanding. I'm sure you all have had experience interpreting the tone of a word so you can get my drift. "What?" said in a matter of fact tone can mean just what it says. But if it is accompanied by a certain blank look, made after much effort but quickly executed in just seconds, you can bet they know exactly 'what' and are hoping you don't. Then there's the oft repeated 'what', said it an increasingly louder cadenced 'what' by those in the preschool set. You can bet they know 'what' as well, they just are reveling in the attention they are receiving as you repeat yourself in to oblivion so they keep asking "What?" just to see how long you'll play along. The eventual grin combined with the pitch is what gives them away. Well, at least when you are in the uninitiated realm. Given that any normal adult will catch on quickly I just mentally say "let the games begin" and play along as I have the time.

Just this past weekend I asked Matthew to do something and he declined. Oh, not so you'd notice mind you. He didn't say "no". He just ignored the request. It was a case of hearing of convenience. How did I know? Because as soon as I positioned myself between him and his book and repeated myself, he spent a few seconds gathering himself together, running his options over quickly in his mind. Then he cocked his head ever so slightly, looked up at me with overly innocent eyes and said "What?". I might have thought that perhaps he really hadn't heard me. But then he went for it. He added another "What?", but this time said with more emphasis and an even more innocent tone. So I patiently waited yet again before opening my mouth. I was almost immediately rewarded! Ah parenting. It is the little things, you know? Anyway, after a few more innocent efforts at "what?" without any more input from me, he put down the book and headed to the kitchen to sweep the floor. I guess we should be thankful as parents that we're better at keeping quiet than they are. Otherwise I'd have busted up laughing as I watched his retreating back. Instead I just thanked the Lord that his hearing kicked in even though I wasn't saying anything.

"What?" must skip children because Jonathan hasn't figured it out yet. He just stomps off to do whatever it is he's supposed to be doing when caught 'not listening'. No "What?". No faked innocence. Just annoyance that I, his parent, would insist on obedience. *sigh* I can't wait to see what his kids do to him. :)

Laura, on the other hand, has taken the "What?" concept to a whole new level. When you tell her something she doesn't want to hear, she'll immediately respond "What?". Innocently. Without any effort to hide her selective hearing or making any effort at all to hide her obvious knowledge about whatever it is she's trying to cover up. Given her age, you as a parent feel compelled to repeat yourself so you do. And inevitably you'll hear "What?" once again. Only this time, instead of an honest, questioning tone, the pitch goes a little higher and the word comes out more clipped. And she won't look at you. So just to be sure, you repeat yourself once more. Her head will flip around and she'll look you straight in the eye, and with an ever increasing, higher pitch, she'll repeat "What?" again. Challenging you to play the game. Usually I'll play for a bit and she can join right in, happy to have a gaming companion. And you wouldn't believe how high that pitch can go! Eventually I'll say "You know what" and she'll grin, moving off to do whatever it is she's supposed to do, happy in the knowledge she's taken me for a ride once again.

I've wondered several times where this need for "What?" comes from. Sure, as teens you can see how they'd get it. We spend a greater and greater amount of time looking at them as if they've just sprouted three heads and that "what" look must train them without our knowledge to adopt it for their own use. But toddlers and preschoolers. Where do they get it? I saw it first hand just the other day. I was smiling at a new Mom who was out shopping with her brand new baby. It's tiny cry said it couldn't have been more than a month old, if that. As soon as the little one started to fuss, the Mom reached down and picked them up, starting clucking her tongue in that little sound we make to soothe our children and then said "What? What is it? What's wrong?" It was at that moment that I think I heard angels singing, a whole chorus mind you! It was as if the 2x4 of recognition hit. Yes! That's where they get it! We start training them young! There we are asking "What?" when they fuss while they are wondering why it is we can't see that they are hungry/wet/dirty/lonely/whatever. Yes, that's it. "What?" is taught from birth. We just refine it as we grow.

With Laura, Don and I spent a lot of time in those first two years asking her "What?" and wondering aloud at which of many possibilities it might be that was causing her to cry out in pain and why we couldn't fix it. We said many times that we couldn't wait for her to talk so she could tell us what was wrong. Little did we know that when she did finally start to talk, the "What?" game would be one of her favorites. :)

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