The first time I ever heard the phrase "Use your words" was probably when I worked as a mother's helper in Amagansett out on Long Island. That was 1976, and I was taking care of a lovely little toddler named Lisa. Like most two-year olds, Lisa was busy building her vocabulary. And (like most two-year olds) Lisa quickly regressed to non-verbal communication whenever she was frustrated, upset or overtired.
"Use your words," her mother reminded her.
Over the years, I heard lots of other mothers say the same thing to their tiny offspring, encouraging them to use language rather than pointing, whining, or throwing their little bodies down on the floor in a heap.
"Use your words." I've always loved the concept of that phrase. Urging the tot to choose from his or her very own collection of words to express whatever needs expressing. It's as though words are valuable assets that they have somehow acquired. Prized possessions; their words, not someone else's. I'm sure I reminded my own toddler daughter to "use her words" more than once or twice myself.
Now that same toddler is a tween. If her report cards are any indication, she has an excellent eighth grade mastery of English. (This despite nearly constant texting, which, as we all know, is the utter demolition of the language.)
And yet, just this afternoon, I found myself wanting to say it again. "Use your words." I was away at a business meeting, and called home when it was over. "How was school?" I asked. (Why, oh why, do I even bother?)
"Enh," she grunted. (Good? Bad? Indifferent? Who knew?)
"Do you have homework?" I asked.
"Arrrrrrem," she groaned. (Again, I couldn't tell whether the sound effect was an affirmative or a negative.)
"I'll be home in about an hour," I told her.
"Hmmmuh," she shrugged. (Yes, we were about 45 miles apart, but I knew she was shrugging. Shrugging as in, "Whatever. Who cares?")
"Okay then. Bye, honey. Love you."
Being the mother of an adolescent ain't always easy. So, I try to be a glass half-full kinda gal. Rather than take my daughter's responses literally, I decided to translate them for myself. Create my own subtitles for our little scene. Here goes ...
Me: "How was school?"
Her: "It was really delightful, mother dear. We learned so many new things and all had such fun together. I'm so fortunate to go to such a good middle school. Thank you for everything you do to make sure I'm getting a fine education."
Me: "Do you have homework?"
Her: "Why yes, thank you for asking, mother dear. I'm already working on it, and plan to get a good jump on the assignments that are due later in the week. I should have it all done in plenty of time to clean my room and then help you in the kitchen later."
Me: "I'll be home in about an hour."
Her: "That's really nice news; I'm so glad. I miss you and look forward to some quality mother-daughter time this evening. Perhaps we can look at some of your old photo albums or watch a Jane Austen movie."
Me: "Okay then. Bye, honey. Love you."
Her: "I love you too. I love you more."
Audible sigh. I think I'll keep this version to myself. After all, my daughter is adept at another form of non-verbal communication. The eye roll.