In third grade, we moved. I finished the year where I was and then started a new school in fourth grade. My teacher that year was nice, distant at first and not overly affectionate, but really kind. It was her practice to do a Weekly Report for each student. Your name was on top and then one of a couple options was circled. Things like ‘had a great week’, ‘was really helpful’, ‘completed all their work’, ‘was disruptive’, ‘had a hard time following directions’, and ‘talked when they weren’t supposed to’. I think the Talking Too Much option was circled for me all but two weeks.
I like to talk.
I like words.
It’s no surprise to me that I am raising a mighty little talker. Shepherd loves to talk. He loves to read, he loves to be talked to, he loves to listen to audio books , he just loves words. There are times, I mean like ten times a day, when I ask him to stop talking. Pretend Mommy isn’t here, baby. I mean, before you judge me, hang out with him for a couple hours and then we’ll see what kind of song you’re singing.
Our house is a wordy, talky house.
There was a time last year when I was watching a friend’s son who is a couple years older than Shepherd and a clear introvert, and at the end of the day, after a long time at school, this friend didn’t want to talk. Shepherd had such a hard with this, like would cry about it hard. He’d ask me again and again why his friend wasn’t talking to him. It started this funny little habit of Shepherd asking if whoever we were going to see would talk to him. “We’re going to go play at Aunty Mandy’s with the kids!” “And Vera and Ethan will talk to me?”
We assumed, then, that one of the hardest things about Thailand for Shepherd would be not being able to talk to the kids around him.
The funny thing is, that hasn’t been the hardest part for him at all. Most kids, especially the kids he’s interacting with, speak as much English as he does and it’s been just fine.
The hardest part has for sure involved words, but not in the way we anticipated. And, surprisingly, it’s been the hardest part of this transition for me as well.
It’s not the language barrier per say, but it is a lack of words. The hardest part has simply been not knowing how to talk about and navigate this new territory. Not knowing how to talk about it first to and with myself, and then second, how to talk about it with other people.
In many ways, I identify with Shepherd. It’s so clear from how he’s been acting and not acting that he’s having a hard time. He’s not himself and we, as his parents, can tell he’s off. We ask him all the time how he’s doing and we even use Little People to play out situations and scenarios to see what comes out when we’re “pretending”. But, of course, because he’s 3.5, very little comes out. He doesn’t have the words.
But when he’s pushed- when he’s sad or hurt or angry or in trouble, he asks for home. He names people and houses and says he wants to go back there.
And me- when Stephen asks how I am, where I’m at with our lives and this crazy transition, I say very little. I don’t have the words. But when I’m pushed- when I’m rejected or left out or too hot or hungry for not Thai food or stiff from a hard bed, I ask for home. I name people and places and wonder aloud if we should just go back there.
If you don’t even have the words to wrap around an idea or feeling to create a container for it, how can you properly process it? And even more, how can you let someone else in on what’s going on if you don’t even know what to call it?
Words, for me and Shepherd, are our stepping stones. They’re the pavers that keep things in line and help us know how to get around. Without them, we’re lost. With words, we’re able to cup the experiences we’re having and examine them with others, tilting our hands as needed to get a better view. Words are how we’re able to claim the event as our own and work through the process with other people.
Without the container, it’s a mess, and I’m not sure how to move through something I cannot even name. And I certainly don’t know how to parent my baby through a thing we cannot even grasp.
I like to step up behind Shep, crouch down, wrap my arms around him and take his hands and help him get a grip on the situation. I like to show him how to hold what’s happening and help him feel he’s not alone and that no matter how hard it is we can do it, together.
I can’t do that in this space. And every time he loses control or asks for ‘home’ or is so out of character, he looks up at me with those big brown eyes, searching for answers. Searching for assurance or direction or a word, a paver, to help him move through it. And all I can do is hold him, offering only my presence.
I get the image of swimming- where we are totally immersed and the choice of processing has been taken away entirely because, like it or not, we’re in the pool and we’re soaked. It’s all around us, this thing we’re going through, this transition, and that makes it hard to see or name or call out.
So what do we do? How do we move through this? How do we allow this season to do in us what it’s meant to do without fighting it too hard and making it harder on ourselves?
When we’re not where we were and we’re not yet where we will be and we’re not even sure where any of these places are exactly, how do we move?
I’m not sure how we do this. I’m not really sure how we’re supposed to lead and guide Shepherd and Valor through this season when it’s all-encompassing and when it’s something that is very much impacting us equally.
I do, however, know how to float. So while I’m sure this whole thing will land one or all of them in therapy, I also know how much we all love to swim.
So maybe I can’t help Shepherd craft a container for this experience. Maybe I can’t help create a cup in which to surround this time and help him hold it to the light to examine and understand it just yet. Maybe I’ll have to be able to do that for myself first. Or maybe we’ll learn together. Who knows.
But I can float. And I can hold his hand as we push our faces and bellies up toward the sun, and maybe that’s how we’ll get through this middlespace.