The Background Drumming (Just Like Magic, Part One)

I’ve been writing a post about language since January. It keeps changing and getting bigger as Rebecca does, so I decided I’d better break it up.

It surprises me, words aren’t as important to me as I thought they were. Over the last year or so, I’ve become more sensitive to the tone of voice people use and sometimes hardly notice the words. I’ve become more sensitive to the patterns structuring our day, and what they tell me about whether I’m valued or interesting. I’ve started wanting my husband to act romantically, which I always thought was kind of a crock before, and oh, aren’t I stereotypical now?

(What happens instead of romance: On Valentine’s Day I buy myself a box of the same cheap chocolates that I used to buy my mom. When we get home, Rebecca sits in my lap and feeds me half the box, minus a few bites for herself.  She finds out that not all the chocolates fit in all the holes and uses the box as a shape sorter. I feel joyful and loved, and I call some other people I love on the phone.)

Words lost their force when Rebecca was a much smaller baby and interpreting what she wanted was mostly a matter of finding patterns over time. If I was around her all day, I’d know quickly what a cry meant, but if she’d been with her daddy or grammy for a few hours first, I’d feel blind. I didn’t have the contextual information to interpret her cries. Even if someone told me what she’d been up to and when she ate, it didn’t sink down to the level where it needed to. It makes me think that maybe there’s something to this full-time parenting gig after all, even if some days it feels like I’m being force-fed chocolate, too much of a good thing.

Having a relationship with someone who communicates non-verbally is simultaneously more raw and more big-picture than a relationship filled with words. She’s long been too emotionally complex to be read as the sum of her needs, but everything she says registers as part of a pattern of moods and hunger, fatigue, and frustration, which is a level of meaning that I sometimes lose sight of when I’m talking to an adult. Not getting wrapped up in individual words makes it easier to be compassionate, and makes me think about taking parts of that awareness to my other relationships. Not in a dismissive way–I’m so used to seeing people blame hunger or hormones or whatnot for conversations that go bad, as if the feelings involved weren’t real and as if the view of the world they disclose were wholly mistaken–but as another part of the message being communicated, as the background drumming that the rest is built on. It’s the register where you glimpse the secret animality hiding behind the things we say, where the tides of life wash in and out of us.

(What happens instead of compassion: I know in theory that I don’t know enough to surmise about anyone but Rebecca and me, and that even my intuitions about Rebecca need checked.  Knowing that doesn’t stop me from jumping to conclusions more than I used to–it’s practically a lifestyle, eh? People get irritated with me.   I’m working on it.)

One reply on “The Background Drumming (Just Like Magic, Part One)”

  1. What a lovely post! I had never thought about that feeling of blindness after being away from one of my girls and how it’s rooted in a lack of context. What a wonderful way to put it.

    Thank you so much for your kind words over at Mother Words. I really appreciate them. And I look forward to following your blog!


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