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What Are You Talking About?

Maddie’s hit this stage where she
hears pretty much everything we say. How do I know this? She
parrots phrases she’s heard three hours ago – from a
different room – said under my breath. So we have to be
careful what we talk about around her, which means we often put off
important conversations indefinitely.

Since this is not always an option, we’ve taken to trying to
slide conversations past her. We’ll either use a polysyllabic
vocabulary and hope she doesn’t know the definitions (though
this is probably giving her a polysyllabic vocabulary!) or
we’ll try to talk fast and quietly, knowing she won’t
understand everything.

She may not know exactly what’s going on, but Maddie suspects
something’s being done and so my kiddo’s taking her own
steps to correct it.

Sitting at the dinner table, the three
adults will be discussing finances, or lack of job prospects, or
trying to figure out our future.

“What are you talking about, Mommy?” Maddie will ask

“Mommy is talking about a chore I have to do soon – pay
bills to all the people who provide services for us!” I then
go back to the more complicated conversation, and Brian starts in
with his opinion.

“What are you talking about, Daddy?”

You get the idea.

There’s something bigger going on here; Maddie’s trying
to define her world, put it all in a perspective she can
understand, and so is entering that phase where she asks about
anything she doesn’t understand. Not, thankfully, the
“why” stage yet, but the “what” stage:
“What is that man doing?” she’ll ask when she
sees a man digging in the trash can. “Who just
sneezed?” she’ll query matter-of-factly as we stand in
line at the grocery store behind a woman with a cold. “Why is
the lion wearing pants?” she wants to know as we read a book.

I love these questions (most of the time) and try not to talk down
to her or dismiss her desire to know. Sometimes, I don’t want
to answer something out in public because of my own comfort zone,
though it’s a perfectly normal question; but most strangers
don’t feel comfortable having their sneezes discussed as if
they’re not there. I also struggle with exactly what to tell
her; we’re trying to never lie to her but know some burdens
are too heavy to bear at that age, so work to come up with a
satisfactory, truthful, but less-than-complete answer for her, dead
things being the hardest topic of conversation. Mostly, I simply
enjoy watching my daughter put her world into terms she understands
and can make sense of.

The conversation thing isn’t just a desire to understand,
though: it’s a longing to be involved. The older Maddie gets,
the more she wants to be a part of what’s going on. Not
necessarily the center of attention – that’s not what I
mean. She simply doesn’t like sitting at the dinner table and
watching the conversation swirling around her head. She wants to be
included, and the questions are her way of not only catching
herself up but also drawing us back to her, forcing us to open our
circle to include her.

This isn’t a bad thing, and it continually reminds me to make
more of an effort and not treat her like a pet to be taken care of.
I’ll admit, though – it’s darn inconvenient when
life is complicated and needs to be talked about. How do I include
my child in the world, yet protect her from worry? Haven’t
quite figured that one out.

I’d better finish this up before Maddie comes over and asks
me what I’m writing about.


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