Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's that time... language comprehension time

Do you ever find yourself saying something that you wouldn't want your child to hear, and then look at him and shrug it off because he's far too little to understand? I do that aaalllll the time. I've always known that I'd have to stop sometime; I couldn't keep talking "grown-up talk" around him forever. But at first, it wasn't a pressing issue. All he heard was my tone of voice and the general patterns of the English language. It didn't matter what I actually said or who I said it to.

Well, that time is beginning to come.

Cloud can follow directions better and better. He listens to explanations of what we're going to do in the immediate future and more-or-less understands what to anticipate. He still can't talk coherently, and that's a little misleading. The fact that he asks for milk by saying, "Guh? Guh?" and pointing at the fridge doesn't make it seem as if gossiping in front of him is any big deal.

We have to stop and think about what we want him hearing, because he's starting to be able to hear it now.

One big issue that's relevant right now is whether we want him to grow up with parents who relate his adoption story over and over to any stranger who asks. A lot of strangers ask. It seems polite to answer questions posed to us, so we do. It's a social norm. Lonely old ladies at the mall, or people at your church, waitresses at restaurants... you don't want to be rude to the people who, these days, qualify as your neighbors - even if you'll never see them again, but, y'know, you still might. People being friendly to each other have to talk about something, and AwesomeCloud is awfully cute, and his story might be awfully interesting.

But I don't want that for him. My mother hardly ever went up to random strangers and told them all about me, but when she did mention the occasional personal fact, I got annoyed. Why wouldn't Cloud get annoyed, too?

If I'm aware of this problem, why do I keep doing it? Because I don't know how to stop.

I need to practice stopping.

First lesson: walking away. Look around for something that would interest Cloud. Point it out. Take his hand and walk over to it. Say, "Bye!" over my shoulder at nosy stranger and then lead Cloud away from her to the interesting object. Become completely engrossed in object. Don't look back.

That "Bye!" part is important. Otherwise she may try to follow us to continue the conversation.

I'll find other conversation-ending techniques, such as the semi-polite retort, and add them to my list of alternatives.

Yes, we encountered such a person today, and my first approach was to sideline the conversation with a question of my own, which failed. Finally I thought up the "walking away" technique and unfortunately left my poor, hapless husband to finish the conversation alone.

He's not that hapless. He likes to talk. Sometimes.

But, yeah, I can't help thinking back to my own childhood, when I resented being talked about. I try to imagine what it would be like to hear your own adoption story over and over and over and over again, retold for every schmuck your family meets in public, and I think it would be horrible. Just horrible.

Yes, our family is in the "obvious adoption" category. You can look at us and guess half our story, and maybe think the details would be just as interesting. But it's still horrible to be the one whose story it is and have to endure listening to it that way repeatedly.

I have to find a way out of the politeness trap. Why is it so hard?

Because, years ago, I vowed I would not turn into one of those people with social anxiety who ducked and sidestepped every human encounter that came my way. I would smile and be pleasant. I would enjoy the company of my neighbors. I would chat and not be awkward.

I'm just following a behavior pattern that I've worked hard to teach myself. I didn't know it would lead to this.


  1. Why not ask Cloud? Turn to him and say, "Cloud, would you like to share your personal story with this stranger?"
    For now you will get no response, so you can shrug and say, with a smile, "Guess not." Then move on.
    Once Cloud is old enough to give a response, then the ball's in his court. Maybe he'll like sharing. Maybe he won't. But the choice will be his and he will have gotten over any embarrassment at the question because he'll be used to it in a positive, empowering way.
    Just a suggestion.


  2. That's what we do... what Mary said. And the Tongginator typically responds with no. Did you read Paula's post about "being nice?" I thought it was so timely.

  3. That approach feels a little awkward at the moment. But I shall try it anyway, and surely the awkwardness will fade! From my end, anyway. The other person may feel awkward all they want.

    I have now read Paula's post, and, eep, yup. Timely is right.

  4. As usual... you always make me think... Great blog entry!