Friday, April 11, 2014

Between the Words

Someone taught him to Eskimo kiss and now, though he can't pronounce the name of what he wants to do, he will pull our faces close, shaking his nose back and forth, trusting that we can understand the movement.  Lincoln is six, rushing through his kindergarten year, yet still making as many unrecognizable sounds as identifiable words.  For so many things, he can communicate well with a combination of the words he does know, a few fragments of sign language, a range of facial expressions, and a slew of animated gestures.  What he can't say, he shows, and most people who spend time with Lincoln would be quick to say you pretty much always know what Linc wants.

For years, I have bemoaned Lincoln's delayed ability to speak.  I have imagined his head full of ideas that he can't share.  I have kept this internal list, though I would have denied doing so if you'd asked, of all the things he can't communicate, ideas more delicate and complex than "Linc wants Batman," or "more milk please."  I have bristled against the waiting, impatient at the gradual progress, always anxious for the day when we would get to hear Lincoln wax poetic about whatever will eventually make Lincoln wax poetic.

Perhaps this is all heightened at the moment because I am acutely aware of the how slow the days seem lately. The winter hung on for so long this year that it began to feel like time had not passed at all, and we were all still stuck in the bleakness of January.  My slow expansion seems almost unnoticeable, until one day we are all struck by the sudden roundness of me.  I cannot help but feel, in the long in between moments, that I am stuck in the endless limbo of waiting, waiting, waiting for something that will not come any faster, no matter how much I will it to be so.

And while I wait for this baby (ever so impatiently), I forget how every day that brings me closer to meeting her takes me one more day away from when the other two were babies themselves.  Their slow expansion seems unnoticeable, too, until one day their pants have shrunk two inches and they come home having learned, somewhere from someone, how to give Eskimo kisses.

We are, all of us, just learning how to communicate these changes.  There is so much that remains unsaid, perhaps remains unspeakable.  When I cluck at the new holes in the knees of Nico's jeans, pulling down at the hems and willing his winter clothes to last through to shorts and t-shirt weather, he simply cannot hear the subtext that is so clear in my head.  It is a cry of look at you grow! and you're so tall! mixed with why must you always grow away from me? and how am I ever going to let you go?  It's a bittersweet experience, a joy and ache in one, and I know it so keenly without being able to explain it to him.  Because how can I tell him that I want to see him do everything, watch him in every stage of his life and know who and what he will become, and that I still want to hold him down and squeeze him tight and refuse to let him grow one more centimeter? How can I say there is part of me that wants every day to go back to the day he was born and hold him for the first time, that I will never love him more than that moment and also that every day I love him more than the day before?

And how can he tell me he wants me to leave him alone and let him make his own decisions, but also that he wants me to hold him and comfort and protect him forever?  That he wants to be big, and he wants to be small, and the ache for both is too confusing to put into words?

So we say it by pantomime, by pushing each other away and pulling each other close, trusting each other to know just what it is we need, though we can't enunciate the impulse.  Even Nico, our you-can't-believe-how-many-words-I-can-get-out-in-a-minute talker of child, even he says as much without words as he says with that expanding vocabulary of his.  And I try to read it with the braille of touch, probing at the truths that don't come out easily with fingers that brush at the hair on his forehead and settle on the defiant tension in his eight year old shoulders.  All the words he doesn't know he needs to say can be read sometimes in the dispensation of those shoulders.

We try to teach our children to name everything: name their colors, letters, numbers, and all the animals at first, then to name their feelings and their fears and their hopes.  It's funny that we forget to mention how much they will never be able to say with words, even people like Nico and like me for whom words come easily.  It's funny we pretend there are hurts than can be healed with anything other than touch, that we ignore how loud a silence can be, that we offer them language as a tool as if it fits all locks, when we all know it doesn't.

I think one of things that has surprised me most about parenthood is how tactile an endeavor it is.  I never imagined how much could be said through the work of my hands, that cooling a fevered brow or kissing a scraped knee would speak more than all the soft words of comfort ever would.  I never realized that I wouldn't ever feel really home until I had touched each of my loves, that coming in the door and calling hello and setting down my keys were all just things I would need to do to be ready for the real homecoming of their embrace.  I don't know who taught Lincoln to give Eskimo kisses, but I know it speaks to me a rich and complicated web of emotions that are probably better left unsaid anyway.  And one day, his speech will have taken off so much that we may not even remember the long wait for his words, but even then, so much of what we say will be done in pantomime.  Some things just can't be said; they must be shown.  So we might as well become fluent in that language now, taking a cue from Linc and pulling each other close to say everything that comes between the words.



1 comment:

  1. " It is a cry of look at you grow! and you're so tall! mixed with why must you always grow away from me? and how am I ever going to let you go? "
    Motherhood is all about letting go - from conception to birth and beyond, they are always growing away from us, even with that invisible string always tethering them to us.
    Great post Liz.
    Angelika

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