As parents, we wait for our children’s milestones with great anticipation. She rolled over! She’s crawling! She’s walking! And, of course, the amazing moment when they start talking. We interact with these small people but other than guessing at meaning (“She’s smiling ~ she recognizes us! … Or she’s gassy…”) we haven’t really been able to communicate with them. Then that magical moment comes along when they finally use our words and we know (“Dagrree”… “She said Daddy!!”) that soon we will be communicating on a whole different level.
I have fond memories of all the adorable things our daughters have said; I even kept a journal on-and-off through the years. I smile when I recall how we had to name the first fish in the family ‘Pitch’ because that was as close as our little preschooler was going to get to saying ‘Fish.’
I even recall the cringe-worthy moments when our kids said things and I really, really wished they hadn’t. For example… shortly after 9/11, I flew to my sister’s wedding with our oldest daughter who was 5 at the time. It was the first time that she had ever flown, so I did my best to prepare her for the adventure. Knowing that the airports had amped up security and added a military presence, I tried to prepare her for that as well.
I kneeled down and spoke calmly to keep it informational but low-key.
“There will be people around the airport who are dressed in uniforms and have weapons. Don’t worry or be scared ~ they are there to protect us. We will also have to walk through machines that help them know if anyone is trying to take something they shouldn’t on to an airplane.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“Like weapons - knives and guns and other things – if they have that stuff in their pockets that really shouldn’t be there, the machine will tell them. It usually doesn’t happen, but I wanted you to know that will be a part of what we see at the airport.”
I had debated whether or not to even explain things, but as a first-time mom I felt it was important to be forward and open with my daughter. More information is better than her being confused by the unknown, right? Well… it was good in theory.
As we approached the metal detectors, it was explained to us that my daughter would need to go through first and wait on the other side while I went through. My daughter seemed fine with it; she’s always been a precocious, fearless adventurer. She went through – no trouble. I went through – and the blasted thing started beeping up a storm. I backed up, checked my pockets, and went through again. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! Two TSA agents stepped toward me and the nearby National Guard soldiers turned and looked over their rifle-carrying shoulders. I am sure my expression was somewhere between confusion and disbelief as I attempted to reassure my daughter.
“Don’t worry kiddo – we’ll figure it out!” I called with more cheer in my voice than I actually felt as I triple-checked my pockets.
“Mommy!” she called out loudly in all earnestness, “Maybe it’s the gun in your pocket!”
As the TSA agent escorted us to a room for a private search, she smiled up at me like a proud big helper. At that moment, I was most definitely debating whether or not communication with our kids is overrated.
Fast-forward 10 years, and I was the parent of a full-blown teenager. The years in-between 5 and 15 had been full of a variety of communication. We had laughed together, cried together, chatted a hundred times about things that mattered to me and things that mattered to her. We had family discussions and sometimes daddy and I stepped up on our political/social/philosophical soap boxes and our kids patiently listened as we laid our ‘wisdom’ out for their consumption.
Fifteen was when I realized she was using a completely different language… a language I didn’t speak. It was full of words that were used in confusing combinations and even had variable meanings, depending on how they were used:
“That’s sick” actually meant “That’s great.”
“It was completely off the chain” was a way of saying “It was crazy and fun.”
“He’s beast” meant that “He’s really good at that.”
It was a confusing time for both of us as I tried desperately to learn a language that was so very different from my own.
Just like I didn’t understand her words, she often didn’t understand mine:
“You can’t just decide things – you need to discuss it with us.”
“We do trust you, but you always have to tell us where you are going, and who you are with.”
“The consequences are for your own good, so you’ll learn something.”
She tried to be patient; I tried to be patient.
Sometimes neither of us was patient. Sometimes communication was very challenging.
(Now my youngest is 15 and for the record, I’m learning a whole new lexicon that involves hashtag twitter face snap chat or something.)
Recently, that same precocious 5-year-old graduated from high school and enlisted in the Navy. She got her orders to head to basic training and started the process of organizing her things in preparation for leaving. While sitting surrounded by piles of papers one day, she looked up at me.
“Hey mom, I was just reading through my old journal entries,” she chuckled. “I used to get so frustrated with you sometimes.”
I smiled. “That went two ways some days, kid.”
We both laughed a little.
“But now…” she mused aloud, “I was reading these and I realized… Everything you and daddy have done was to help me.”
It hit me like a giant hug.
I had to breathe slowly because the tears welled up – the tears about things changing, the tears about her leaving, the tears about the time that had passed so very quickly.
I let the words that were in my heart escape.
“I love you. And I am proud of you… who you are, who you are becoming, and who you will be,” I whispered.
We were communicating. Three years had passed since we’d forayed through a foreign language trying to find a common vocabulary. Thirteen years had passed since she almost got me arrested as a threat to national security. Sixteen years had passed since the momentous milestone when she uttered her first word.
We were truly communicating.
And it was well worth the wait.