My daughter speaks now.
She puts together full sentences and mimics whatever I say with unnerving accuracy like a tiny, wild-haired parrot. It has been awe-inspiring to watch her stretch and fumble and try desperately to express herself, putting words together one after the other, stringing them along like tiny precious beads on a wire. Fitting them together sometimes awkwardly, hesitantly, a linguistic game of Tetris.
This development has resulted in a few different emotional reactions in me. Hearing a small voice say clearly, “Thank you, mummy” when I give her something is still surprising to me, no matter how many times I hear it. Sometimes she busts out with those little toddler-isms that are probably only funny to Adam and I, but we obnoxiously over share all over Facebook nonetheless (like when we were learning the different body parts and I said “Girls have vaginas, remember? And what do men have?” and she replied quite certainly, “Hats.” )
And of course the shadow side. Because for every moment that I am in awe of Olive looking at me and saying “Love you, mummy” or peeing myself laughing because she is earnestly telling me “Gus, eat, poop, Olive.” (long, gross story), there is a moment where I find myself pleading (horribly) PLEASE be quiet, Olive! Just STOP. TALKING! For just five minutes!! PLEASE.
I really miss silence. I stay up hours after everyone goes to sleep just to wrap myself in it. I can’t get enough.
I miss the silence that used to come from her, punctuated only by the odd coos or grunts, it was simple and undemanding. It has been replaced by a rambling stream of consciousness monologue where the same phrase gets repeated eighteen times until, like interrupting a skipping record, I repeat it back to her and she stops. And before anyone reminds me, let me assure you that it is not at all lost on me that when she was that small cooing gurgling creature my greatest wish was for her to open her mouth and speak.
I know, I know. This is just how it goes though, right? Wishing them older, craving them younger. This parental push and pull against time.
It goes beyond that though. It’s not just her. I miss my own silence. I miss not having to narrate my movements, and actions. I miss not having to explain things, negotiate things. I miss not having to repeat things eighteen times myself. I miss the time I used to spend inside my own head and sometimes I resent how much living out I have to do these days, instead of living inside where I am more comfortable.
It’s not a pleasant feeling, that resentment. That irritation that I can’t ever finish a thought or a sentence or an email without being interrupted. I have started writing letters to my friends instead of calling them because it;s easier to have a conversation that way. Easier to maintain coherent train of thought. Even as I write this she plays on the floor behind me, the tapping of these keys punctuated every few seconds by her saying “Hi mummy!”
The whole thing is made even more uncomfortable because I’m not sure who this irritation is being directed toward. It makes me feel like a Bad Mother to be feeling it at all, but even within the depths of this bad mothering I understand that it’s not directed at Olive. It can’t be. She’s doing what toddlers do. She’s not misbehaving or acting out or being bad, she’s just talking. She’s learning to express herself, and she has to practice in order to do so. And despite my sometimes-desperate pleas for silence, I don’t blame her in the slightest.
So who’s left?
I think I’m irritated with myself for not being able to adapt better, to manage my time better. I’m saddened that her constant, noisy, exuberant presence ever irritates me at all – it’s not the kind of mother I wanted to be. Who gets angry that their child is talking for god’s sake? She’s extraordinarily smart, healthy, and well-behaved, and I am mooning about longing for silence.
I knew this was coming though. The baby phase was easier for me. The quietness, the stillness. It was monotonous sometimes, sure. The holding and rocking and feeding. But it came naturally. This is forcing me to stretch and change and live almost every waking moment in response to someone else’s loud, articulate needs. But I mean, that’s the deal, right?
That’s the deal.
I get to love more, laugh more, invest more of myself into another person than I ever thought possible, and in return I have to give as much as I possibly can. Despite how it sometimes feels uncomfortable, or unnatural.
And, as a wise lady reminded me today, eventually I will be wishing she spoke to me more. Wishing she would open up, use words instead of slammed doors and rolled eyes.
I’ll come full circle again, as I always do.
I’ll be pushing where I’m pulling now. And I’ll loathe the silence, it will feel as oppressive and stifling as the endless repetition.
And then there’s this. As I am going through the final edits on this post, Olive sidles up to me and pats my arm. Says, “Good person, mummy. Good person.”
Thanks for sharing. My daughter is younger than yours, but you seem to be able to write what Im thinking, but I couldn’t articulate it as I no longer have enough space or quiet to think. Listen to your toddlers view of ‘good mummy’ – she’d sharp let you know if she thought you weren’t. And thanks for letting me know it’s not just me juggling all those mammy needs/guilt issues as I try to remember I’m an individual with needs as well as being a mammy (which is the most amazing thing but the goal posts keep moving)
Oh love, I resent my child for not napping longer so I can do my own thing. It’s terrible, but there it is. It’s a constant battle between “good” mummy and “bad” mummy. I can feel you’re pain.
But oh how “hats” made me laugh! Classic 🙂
Yep, I miss the silence too. And yet there are days where I get glimpses of a wonderful future, where we have actual conversations, not just 7 or 3 year old monologues or me explaining shit – my 7 year old is going for the world record in asking questions. (Just as an aside, how do you explain the meaning of “affected” without using the words “effect” or “affect”?) Of course, there’s TV, which I employ to get some silence. (Yes I have to listen to Dora shouting, but at least she’s not shouting at ME. Which makes a nice change). We all have our limits, I try so hard not to get irritated by the constant chatter – some days I enjoy it, other days it’s like fingernails on a blackboard. I think it’s directly related to how much sleep and time to myself I’ve had. To add insult to injury my husband is working overseas most of this year, so when they’re not at school or preschool I get to hear it all. All day, all evening, the whole weekend long… But you know, I’m getting better at listening to them and not retreating into my head (that seems like a luxury nowadays), and they are lovely and lots of fun. Posting in solidarity 🙂
wonderfully worded, magnificently candid.
Oh yes. Sometimes I get so sick of the constant droning sound of my own voice, explaining or instructing or bargaining or redirecting every second of the day. Then when my husband gets home from work, I have so much I want to say to him, but I don’t feel capable of talking anymore. I’m just done being verbal.
And can someone please tell me why I can’t break the habit of referring to myself in third person? Mommy fears she will do this forever!
OMG WHEN does that start?? I have no idea when I started doing it but I can’t stop. It’s horrific.
I read this once, after having a mild panic attack over the thought of one day having a child (or two. Or three.) I have always wanted to be a mother – literally for as long as I can remember having cognizant thought. But what you write about here, missing the silence when that baby isn’t quite such a baby anymore, is something that deeply disturbs me and makes me afraid. I wound up Googling “Introverted Mothers” because of it. And this blog post kind of helped.
Wow, that is an absolutely pitch-perfect post. Thank you so much for sharing it, Amaris.
just curious… will it be different (better? worse?) when olive is doing more communicating *with* you, as opposed to just practicing the act of stringing sentences together? like, she’s saying stuff to you that you have to think about, process, and thoughtfully respond to, and there’s no repetitive talk-practicing going on? are you maybe just kinda bored with it the way any adult is bored (and sorta irritated) watching dora the explorer? b/c it’s ever so slightly mind-numbing? maybe that makes it worse than it just being an interruption of silence? i have no idea, since i don’t have a toddler yet, i’m just wondering.
how timely that you and a commenter would be mocking yourselves for referring to yourselves in the third person! i read something interesting just yesterday about parents referring to themselves in the third person. i’ll just share this little snippet out of the book “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn, from the chapter “Principles of Unconditional Parenting” under the principle #7, “Be Authentic” (pp. 125-127). it will certainly make me think really carefully about letting this slip into my language. until i read this, it always seemed like an odd, if perhaps obnoxious, and probably unnecessary baby-talk some parents do with their kids, but never really occurred to me as a way of adding distance or inauthenticity. but i think it kind of makes sense. if your child is really torn up about your leaving, and you must leave, it seems a lot more heartbreaking to have to look them straight in the eye and say “i have to leave now” than the sort of gesturing at yourself as another person implied in “mommy has to leave now”, but maybe there’s value to doing it the harder way, because it’s a bit more authentic? i dunno, i just really like most of what this author has to say, so i’m kicking lots of ideas around in my head right now, including this one. i can tell there’s something you don’t like about referring to yourself as “mommy” when you talk to olive. maybe this will make sense to you, too?:
“What’s more, many parents fear that reaching out to develop genuine, warm relationships with their kids may compromise their capacity to control them. Much of conditional parenting can be traced back to the fact that when those two objectives clash, control tends to be favored over connection. You can see this even in the subtle ways parents distance themselves from their kids, such as by talking about themselves in the third person (‘Mommy has to leave now’) long after the child is able to understand how pronouns work.”