Wringing words out of silent children
When I was a teenager, I learned to type by pounding out meaningless “quick brown fox”-style phrases on an old Selectric. I’m not sure what my boys are up to, but the teenage girl is racking up typing practice by burning up the Internet with instant messages and myspace.com entries.While we have to practically pry her fingers from the keyboard to get her to do things like sleep and eat, the seemingly enormous volume of messages she relays to friends bare scant resemblance to our conversations. It’s the age, I know, but I do miss the little girl who seemed to like being in my presence and who occasionally said things to me. When I enter the room now, she’s careful to make sure I’m not reading over her shoulder, and if she’s on the phone, she repairs to her room, door closing behind her.Picking Kaylie up at dance class, I make attempts at small talk, but it’s like trying to get a straight answer out of Donald Rumsfeld – only with less words.”How was dance?””Good.”With a nearly audible grinding sound, the conversation – such as it is – dies there. We’ve got five more years of this? Even then, what if she hits 18 reduced to hand gestures and facial expressions on a more verbose day? Kaylie’s never been the most chatty kid, but this is ridiculous. The fact that we have another near-mute in the family in the form of a 12-year-old boy makes it even more distressing.That one is even more challenging, because Max doesn’t live with us. It’s the every-other-weekend thing and a lot of stultifying phone conversations between visits. If there was ever a time I wished I was a mind-reader, this is it. It’s not easy for me to understand the mindset of a quiet person. When I was a kid, I spent half of junior high out in the hall because I simply could not shut up. Thoughts came pouring into my mind constantly, and just about anything anyone else said acted as a prompt for me to supply a rejoinder – however inappropriate.While my self-editing skills have improved vastly since then, there are still plenty of occasions where I wish I’d just shut up. With that in mind, I look at Kaylie and Max with a modicum of admiration. It’s rare to get in trouble for not saying things, Judith Miller aside. By withholding every thought, when these kids do issue a statement, opinion or complaint, it tends to get more weight than those voiced by others. But that’s what a family is: an extraordinary mixture of personalities. It’s amazing to see the different way kids develop, and to watch those personalities emerge from the ether of infancy. Our 4-year-old is chatting from the moment he opens his eyes in the morning until long after he’s supposed to have gone to bed – and sometimes we hear him giggling or talking in his sleep. The same goes for our 14-year-old, who, once he warms up in the morning, believes he has carte-blanche to offer opinions on everything from the state of the nation to the validity of every word that passes from his parents’ lips.I keep thinking that, at some point in their lives, our two silent kids will suddenly open up with a torrent of information about what’s been on their minds all these years. But my sister has a clam in her family, too, and he’s getting ready to go off to college with barely a whisper of information about his inner mind.Still water runs deep, they say. And while that may be true, I’d give anything for some kind of bathosphere to plumb the depths. Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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