Outraged Child Performs Elaborate Pantomime
Parents encourage her to “use her words”
One of Kina’s perplexing habits is ceasing to speak when she really needs something. Under duress, or when she wants our attention, she will stomp around and stab her finger in our faces, spinning around to point wildly towards whatever it is she wants. When asked for detail, she will refuse, doubling down on her furious pantomime: pointing, waving, pulling our clothes, shaking her head, opening her mouth as if to take a bite of a huge snack. At the end, it is almost always a snack.
But even when it’s a snack, we have no idea which snack. We’ll offer melon (grunt, shake, point, point), crackers (grunt, point, point, open mouth), cookies (shake, shake, point, point, pull), and even show her the entire contents of our pantry (wiggle, grunt, point)—to no avail. Ultimately, if we get her close enough to the thing that she wants, she will simply pull us across the room, point directly at the thing she wants, point at her mouth, and wait for us to give it to her.
Sometimes I think she is wistful for that time, before she was two, when she was still a baby. She seems to have made the correlation between being nonverbal and getting what she wants—and it’s not a spurious correlation. I remember when she was legitimately nonverbal, as I tried desperately to figure out what she wanted. Laurea and I would make multiple dinners for her, trying to land on the thing she’d eat. We surrounded her with toys until we stumbled on the right one. Burped her, fed her, changed her diaper. Stayed in the room, stayed out of the room. Lights on. Lights off.
I learned a lot in those first two years about figuring out what somebody wants when they’re angry and won’t talk to you. I use that skill far more in my non-parent life than I wish to admit. Maybe, because of that, I wish I didn’t have to use it with the fully-verbal kid whose every whim I would completely cater to, were she only to tell me what that whim is. Sometimes, I have learned, the suffering is the point (or is the pointing the suffering?) As always, I’ll try not to take for granted these moments when she needs us so visibly. Eventually she’ll stop talking to me for more mundane reasons, and no snack will salvage that.
You get what you get and you don’t get upset.