The other day Hannah spit up after I had just changed her, and I naturally exclaimed, 'Oh Hannah! You've decorated your nice outfit, time to go change again!' At which point Priscilla bust out laughing and started repeating, 'Hannah decorated her outfit!' Now whenever I spill something, or Hannah spits up on me, Priscilla will say with a laugh, 'Did you decorate Mommy's shirt Hannah?!'
I then realized that though I hadn't really said it to be funny, the way it sounded to young ears WAS quite funny. It got me to reflect on how children hear things - as literal. And I remembered being a kid too. In fact, I have such strong memories partly because I told myself, 'Never forget this when you are an adult. Try to remember this so you can understand children later.' In my world there were kids and there were adults, and adults were a confusing breed of their own. I somehow recognized I'd become one of them someday but I felt like I'd be a kid forever.
One thing that took me a long time to figure out was how the words of things said to me don't necessarily mean what they say. I think my development was very slow because I understood things literally until quite late in my childhood when I should have figured that things said were figurative, not literal.
I remember being in Beacon Hill Primary School and for the most part things went well for me. However, there was somehow a dreadful fear of the ruling class (that would be the teachers and Administration, and on occasion, hall 'monitors' who through my young eyes were basically the goody-two-shoes responsible ones who were given the privilege of authority over the pond-scum). Thankfully the Monitors were pretty nice, and quite preferable to a run-in with a higher-up. I had my share of those run-ins - usually for lateness, sloppiness, talking too much, day-dreaming too much, doodling too much or just being slow about too much. I guess I was, on occasion, just too much.
I liked my teachers, but I did fear them. The worst was not just being told-off in front of your classmates - which I think happened to me on a daily basis. It was really bad if you had to stand outside in the hallway where a lurking head-master or custodian may spot you and shake their head at your shameful ways. I didn't have to stand out there often, just a few times, and there was a dread that hung over me during those moments. I hoped and prayed that no-one saw me out there - who would then, in my mind, mark me as belligerent for the rest of my life. (Which, may not be far off, but I would have preferred people not view me as such, even if there might have been truth in it - I had not discovered my full acceptance and identity in Christ yet!)
There was one phrase that kept getting barked at me - I could gauge my behavioural performance based on a tally of how many times I got told this in a day. The phrase was, 'You need to pull your socks up SUNSHINE.' Sounds friendly enough. But not if you say it with a stern, glowering British accent, and are half that person's height and they are standing a tad too close, invading your personal breathing space.
For the record, 'Sunshine' in British school-speak, is not a term of endearment and affection. At least it wasn't for me at that time!
Every time I heard that I would quickly reach down and yank each sock up as high as it would go. I hoped they stayed glued to right underneath my knees. I was convinced that all the other kids whose performance was far superior to mine had socks that stayed up perpetually, and no one needed to remind them of this oversight on their part.
I'm sure the teacher would then go on to express disapproval at my dismal behaviour and reprimand me about the specifics of my shortcomings. But at the first mention of my socks my mind went into high gear about socks in general and I think all that was said after that just went in one ear and out the other. Or not in at all. My eyes were open and focussed on the speaker, but my thoughts were on socks.
The literal-ness of 'pull your socks up' meant to me that I was bad somehow and my socks were slouching. I guess deep down I did understand that it meant I was out of line and needed a change in my actions. But I would always be distracted in my mind by the actuality of my socks being slouchy. I would have done better to take the general meaning and re-work my attitudes and actions, but I was always thinking of how to make my socks stay put.
The same would be true of when my Mom would say, 'Your feet are just black! Go and wash them!' I would look at the soles of my feet, and low and behold, they were grey, not black. Then I would argue and be befuddled as to why she saw black when I only saw grey. So you see, I had a problem untangling the ethereal from the literal.
And I think many kids do. It might help us 'adults' to remember that kids don't always have the mental capabilities to decode what our expressions tell them.
I'm just telling you because I remember, and I present myself as an advocate for all those kids who can't express what they're thinking, because I can, on many occasions, read their minds :)