We are so often misunderstood that we begin to believe that understanding is a luxury. Even our closest friends or partners who listen attentively but then quickly try and fix us feels mis-attuned.
I am not sure how we come to live without understanding and stop our protests. Do we just assume we will be misunderstood and give up?
We might find a slight postural stance and freeze in our bodies. A small shrug – one shoulder up higher than the other – our head turned to the side – the body clearly saying, “whatever”.
When our 21-month-old little grandson Lucas is saying his words (which are all quite new) it is an imperative that they be understood.
We strain and look for all the clues of context to hear his words and then say them him so he knows he has been heard correctly. When we repeat the word accurately “orange juice” he give a little head nod and a little satisfied hum comes out of his mouth.
There are words we cannot understand. Last night a word that sounded like “bow” or “bowl”. His brother almost 4 guessed he was saying his name “Cole”. Little Lucas in a flash is so frustrated. He scrunches up his face, his little hands become fists and he shakes them in front of his chest. An extended NOooooooo comes out of his mouth. This passes quickly and we are on to more words we understand. We are all trying even harder to speak and listen.
Cole our 4 year old fills me in on all his activities when we are not together. He also remembers every detail of the times we are together. What we eat, talk about and do. I am amazed how little we remember as grown ups of our previous conversations and the details of our lives. A few days ago he is trying to tell me that he and his mom when to Biatta’s house. It comes out like Boalta. I do not make the connection between this word I am hearing and my daughter in law’s friend. Cole raises his voice louder and repeats over and over Boalta. It does not help with the recognition. I try repeating versions of it and Cole gets more frustrated. Later that day I realize what Cole was saying. “Oh you went to Biatta’s house.” “I heard you drove a tractor there and climbed on hay bales.” “Yes I did,” Cole says, satisfied.
Yesterday Cole says to me, “Mimi, remember when you could not say that word?” And I say, “The word Biatta?” “Yes,” he says. We have had a repair and he remembers it.
When did we get accustomed to being mis-understood and pretend it does not matter. When did we give up on repeating ourselves over and over until are words are heard? When did we forget to try repair and remember those moments when mis-attunement happened. In many ways our connections skills are way below two-year-old level. We have let our real needs for understanding suffer in a pretense of “it does not matter”.
It does matter. Next time I feel mis-understood, I am going to try balling my hands up in fists and shaking them in front of my chest – just to see what it feels like.