I have a 20 month old baby girl named Olivia. And she cracks me up. When I tell her “no” she says, “oohhh.” She does it just like someone going, “aw man!” She has this laugh that sounds like whatever she’s laughing at is the funniest thing ever. She also has an unusual command of her body. She’s been walking since 8 1/2 months and can pull herself onto a counter using only her arms. She’s been able to twist tops off of bottles since before she could walk and recently figured out that if you bite down on the tip of a marker and yank really hard, you can pull the inked felt core right out of the marker.
Then there are the things she gets backwards. We’ve been encouraging Olivia to talk because she’s so good at communicating using body language and odd noises that otherwise she’d hardly ever see the need to learn to talk. So she’s starting to say a few words and try her hand at jabbering. One of the words we hear most often from her is “no”. But it’s not because she’s being contrary or disagreeable; she says “no” when she really means “yes”. What’s even funnier is that if you ask her if she means “yes”, she repeats her “no” in a very exaggerated way as if maybe she wasn’t clear enough the first time. It doesn’t help that she also says “no” when she means “no”. We keep trying to get her to say “yes”, but she appears to be of the opinion that since she knows when her “no” means “yes” and when it means “no”, then we should as well.
The other thing she gets wrong that cracks me up is she blows out when she means to breathe in and vice-versa. This summer, I planted a bunch of moss roses (portulaca) by my front porch that grew int a beautiful, thick patch of covered with dozens of brightly colored, imitation rose flowers. Olivia would frequently crouch down next to the plants and blow on the showy flowers. At first I thought that maybe she liked watching the flower petals flutter in her breath. But then I realized that she thought she was smelling them! She knew that people smelled flowers, but was confused on the mechanics of it. Put a candle in front of her and she’ll purse her lips and suck in like she’s using an invisible straw.
While dealing with Olivia, it has often occurred to me that she gets things backwards the same way most people get things backwards. So often, we have a tendency to intend to communicate one thing, but what comes out is just the opposite. And then when people try to correct the error, we assume that the problem is their’s and not ours. At the extreme end, we have jealous-stalker types who insist they behave the way they do because they just love someone so much. More commonly, way we will tell a child how much they are loved and then snap at them angrily when they are irritating. It’s the sort of thing we do all the time – especially with those closest to us. Our actions communicate just the opposite of what we intend and we expect others to just know what we mean.
And isn’t it just like us to blow out when we should be breathing in and breath in when we should be blowing out? For example, we will try to demand that our partner be a certain way (blowing on them) when what we are supposed to be doing is allowing them to show us who they are and learning to deal with them as they are (breathing in). On the other hand, we are affected deeply by the things that happen to us and hang onto the hurts and dysfunctions that are created (breathing in) while doing very little to change our hearts and minds so that we are better able to deal with what happens to us and let it go (blowing out). We try to exert our will to change what we cannot change (other people, the way life is designed to work) and often put far too little effort into changing what we can change – ourselves.
Eventually Olivia will learn to say “yes” when she means “yes” and to breathe in the scent of flowers and blow out a birthday candle. As her mother, I also hope that by the time she’s ready to go out into the world on her own, she will have mastered the these skills in the rest of her life as well.