First Words and Last Words

How we wait in breathless anticipation for our babies to say their first word. Whether it will be "Momma" or "Dadda" first becomes a friendly competition. Experts agree that if you talk to your babies early and often, they will soon talk to you. Some parents start the conversations before their little ones have even emerged from the womb. Will they recognize Daddy's voice if he gets down on his knees to speak right at the bulging, pregnant belly? What if we play Mozart, Bach and Beethoven when they're still in the oven - will they become musical prodigies? One can only hope.

Then they grow into energized toddlers and small people and we can't get a word in edgewise. How ironic! We spend so much time anticipating their first words and then wish they would be quiet so we can think! They tell us every detail of their day at kindergarten and we wonder if they had time to actually do what they were supposed to do. Our children talk to themselves, to strangers, to sweet little old ladies at the grocery store and to invisible friends as they go about their business and suddenly, when they hit middle school, it's as if someone shut off the valve. Unfortunately its like pulling teeth to get more than one word answers about their lives. We ask how their day was and we get "good." It's not even grammatically correct. The only time we get a full sentence out of them is when they complain, "There's nothing to eat around here!"

But if we persist in the communication mode, if we don't give up and get frustrated, if we continue to show interest and be involved in their lives, the dividends down the road are astronomical. Before we know it, they will search us out and pose questions about life. They'll ask our advice on the opposite sex and our opinion on their choice of date for the prom. They'll confide some deeply buried insecurity or confess a white lie that got them into hot water. We'll be at the kitchen sink, cleaning up after dinner, and we'll hear, "Hey Mom, can I ask you something?" Drop everything and sit down!

These moments are precious. They can never be taken for granted. If we say, "Not now honey, I'm busy. Can we talk later?" there may never be a later. We have to grab the opportunity and talk into the wee hours, if need be. If they want to unload some frustrations, to share a concern, to ask for wisdom, to lean on a shoulder or hear us laugh at their mishap, we must be there! If they need to get something off their chest or level with us about a disappointment in our relationship, listen! If there's an argument, we mustn't always feel like we have to get in the last word. Listen, apologize when necessary and keep the communication flowing. When they seek our opinion, we can feel flattered and we must be wise in our counsel.

There is no greater honor than when our child comes to us to talk. It means we laid the foundation for discourse and helped them feel valued early on. It means we showed them that their take on life matters to us and we want to be beside them as they journey. Be glad and talk, talk, talk!