Friday, November 30, 2012

Speech – III/Tools - II

In “Laugh Like a…” and “Gortles vs. Vocal Fry” I began to write about the Full Spectrum of speech expressed by my children and our family approaches to some of our challenges in that realm. These include, on the one hand, exceptional sassiness or dorkiness of oral interaction styles and, on the other, widely disparate levels of verbal agility.

Here are two more topics to consider: repetition and volume.

G and Z loooove to repeat. Single words, questions, quotations, astute observations, not-so-astute observations, random sounds…all are fodder for extensive repetition. This shared habit is rooted in two very different sources: G’s mind seems to get drawn into a pattern - he’ll blurt out a word or phrase from time to time, sometimes for days, as the neural impulse strikes; Z likes uninterrupted attention, which speech can bring, but she also self-soothes – and learns --with patter.

We use the same tool inclusive of these two distinct contexts. Since it works well in our household, it just might work in a wide range of families. I therefore offer:

A Good Rule for Parents and People:
1.     The One Time Rule
Things may only be said ONE TIME.  If something is repeated, Mama – often in cahoots with the currently non-repeating child – may utter the powerful phrase, “One Time Rule”…as many times as is necessary.
a.     The Awesome [or insert your dreadful trending word here] Rule
Each child may utter the word “awesome” ONE TIME per diem.
For some reason, this has worked. Good thing, because we have yet to work out the Consequences.

Partly because of low tone, G also has issues with volume modulation. More specifically, he speaks very, very loudly, especially when excited (and he’s an enthusiastic guy). His speech volume is probably the single biggest obstacle to other kids’ acceptance and comfort in his presence.

When we are together as a family, I might say, “Stop shouting in my ear,” “Turn it Down, please,” or “I am RIGHT HERE.” I don’t want to humiliate him in public, though, so we have devised a sort of turning-down-a-radio-dial type motion that is meant to indicate to him that he needs to try to modulate his voice to a quieter level.

Alas, unless he is looking right at my finger, he doesn’t notice this signal! My gesture, then, gets bigger and bigger, progressing initially to something resembling the “cuckoo” finger swirl and then evolving, as it widens, into a one-handed version of Jazz Hands.

In contrast, and no, I am not making this up just to, as it were, fill my proverbial Spectrum, Z has issues with speaking at LOW volume. Specifically, she prefers to speak At All Times, and so, if she has been asked to be quiet, she simply speaks much, much more quietly, typically in a very special language of her very own. This brings us to:

2.  The No Poltergeist Voices Rule
If your attachment disordered, or otherwise anxiously garrulous, or perhaps even happily loquacious child has not stopped speaking in approximately seven hours (years) and if he or she insists upon whispering “ZI-guh-sa-ba ZI-guh-sa-ba” over and over near your ear while you are on the phone for Three Minutes after Paying Attention to her or him the Entire Day (or some similar situation), simply invoke the No Poltergeist Voices Rule.

This might work.

Jazz Hands!

Full Spectrum Mama

Friday, November 16, 2012

Suite: Shorty Hedgehog Eyes

I. A List of Who Can Stand in Front of Me, and When

Z was holding a scrap of paper at pickup the other day. From a quick glance, I saw there was a dividing line drawn down the center of the paper, with ten or so names on either side. Underneath this was another line with two names below that one, and some numbers. 

“Whatcha got?” I asked, curious.

“A list of who can stand in front of me, and when.”


II. The Sad Fairy and the Broken Fairy

We have an iron garden fairy with downcast eyes and a sad expression. She was a gift from a dear friend and has lived, with her friend Hunk of Rose Quartz, on a nice stump in our yard for some time.

We are preparing to move and I brought up the fate of the sad fairy with Z: “This fairy is so sad, maybe we should leave her here for the next people and then she will get happy.” Part of me thought maybe we’d be leaving some of our travails behind with the sad fairy.

Z looked at me with horror. “No, Mama! She wants to come with us! I will take very good care of her and find her a home in our new home so she will feel better.”

Although I’d considered abandoning her as well, I also packed up the painted resin garden fairy with the broken wing.

III. Hedgehog Eyes

“That seagull is a girl,” G announced.

“How can you tell?”

“It has the eyes of a mother.”

“How can you tell?”

“Well,” G explained, “it just has a certain expression. There is a look of love in its eyes. That’s ‘the eyes of a mother.’”

This, from someone who has a hard time telling similar-looking people apart – and who generally cannot read facial or body language, we-e-ell, verymuchatall. Traits which, basically, did not fall far from the proverbial mama tree.

The first night of being Z’s mother, I looked deeply into her eyes as I tucked her in. I have never been big on direct eye contact with adults but children, especially babies, seem to look through their eyes in non-threatening/-confusing/-overwhelming ways. Z’s eyes were unfamiliar, alien, so round and black that the first thought that popped into my mind was “hedgehog.” My second thought was, those are – beyond the shadow of a doubt -- the eyes of my daughter. They were bright and a little fierce/scared like those of a wild animal that might, with care, be loved into feelings of trust and safety.

IV. Team Good

On Election Night, G was goofing around at the dinner table, cracking himself (and Pardner and me) up with talk of “Demo-Craps” and “Re-Butt-licans,”(the finer implications of which I hope escaped him). Sometimes, though, G gets “stuck,” and he would not stop saying these words despite my telling him he was not using language suitable for a seven-year-old.

Z covered her ears and, with her clear, dark, never tame but perhaps increasingly civilized eyes, looked right into mine.

“That is not appropriate, G,” she announced, holding my gaze, “and I am not listening!”

Since I am Z’s primary caregiver, she focuses a great deal of oppositional energy on me. It was such an incredibly nice feeling to have a moment where I felt she and I were so clearly on the same “team,” a brief respite where she felt safe enough to let down her defiant defenses and join with me in an effort to give her shelter – even if that shelter was merely from a grody eleven-year-old.

I think she felt it too. Later, she wrote me a letter, “thak you for that diner” [thank you for that dinner] and signed it “love form shorde” [love from Shorty]. 

V. The Hope of a Mother

When glimmers of empathy and Do-Right shine through the daily power struggles they are a balm for the Full Spectrum soul.

Z showed me we have plenty of love and caring to share with every member of this forever family, even those of us who might be referred to as imperfect…or inanimate.

She’s showed me that although it may take a little longer than we’d like, a frightened creature can learn to trust – and that with that trust comes the possibility of walls coming down.

I’ve begun to hope that, in the fullness of time, Z will use her substantial magnetism and undeniable, very tall and large will for the sake of goodness and justice.

I leave you with this Emily Dickinson poem about hope. It often pops into my mind both when I feel hopeless, and, like now, when I feel the power of hope.


"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickinson

Full Spectrum Mama