Grandchild’s unspoken words are a golden opportunity

Grandchild's unspoken words are a golden opportunity

It’s a favorite story my father once told. During World War II, a kindhearted English couple adopted a six-month-old Polish baby girl. Shortly thereafter, they enrolled in a course to study the Polish language.

When asked why they were taking a class, they replied, “Little Sonya will soon be starting to talk, and we want to know what she is saying!”

We smile at that. But it does capture in a humorous way our duty of understanding what others are feeling and saying.

Although I admire the dedication of Sonya’s parents, what is truly impressive about their story is the logic in their approach. They equipped themselves to enter their child’s world, expanding their world to include hers.

I thought about that story during a recent visit with my granddaughter, Blakely Faye. At 18 months of age, Blakely is “verbal.” Now I don’t understand all of her unique gibberish, but she is highly verbal. The one word she says clearly (and with great gusto and frequency) is, “No!”

I watched with amusement one evening when she put her parents through the paces as they tried to figure out what she wanted. “No!” was the answer to every question. It was one of those special grandparenting circle-of-life moments. The memory of what you’ve lived through with your child floods back full force as you watch that child live through it with their own child.

And you smile a sneaky smile inside, welcoming them to the parenting club and secretly hope they appreciate you just a little more.

During this particularly lengthy exchange, I tried to help out.

“Tell Nana B what you want, Blakely Faye.”

Without a word, she walked over to me and reached out her arms.

“You want to sit in my lap?”

She grinned.

“Hang on, darling. Nana B has to figure this out.” She was already trying to climb up my wheelchair, one foot on my footplate. But I knew she would need one final lift up to land in my lap, something my paralyzed abdominal muscles could not easily do.

“Wait, Blakely. Nana B needs to get ready for you.” I guided her to the side of my wheelchair where I could lean on my armrest for leverage. “Okay, step here,” I directed her. “Now, one, two, three, go!” I lifted her up and into my lap.

She beamed.

So did I.

“I guess she wanted a ride in Nana B’s wheelchair,” I told her parents.

It’s easy to forget that children have strong feelings about things long before they have language. In my experience with four children, the terrible twos weren’t terrible because of the age, but because my children were speaking in a language I did not understand. The tantrums at that age convey, “I want,” or “don’t want,” just as effectively as any verbal request.

Like Sonya’s parents, we just have to equip ourselves to enter their world.

With effort, we can decode their language and be responsive to those unspoken words.

And outstretched arms.

This column was co-authored and edited by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, daughter of the late Dr. R.F. Smith Jr., a longtime columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Becky is a columnist and author of “Rethinking Possible – A Memoir of Resilience.” 

First published 3/19/17 Herald-Dispatch

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