Friday, November 23, 2007

Talking with the animals

Last night you wanted me to talk with the cow. He’s been your favorite lately and I don’t have any idea why. Except perhaps that he’s a hand puppet and I can make his mouth move so it appears it’s him who’s speaking and not me. It has become something of a ritual, this talking with your animals before you go to sleep. I started picking up different stuffed animals lying in your bed and speaking through them as a way of letting you tell me things you might not have said otherwise, perhaps it was a little sneaky on my part, well, not a little sneaky it was downright sneaky, and now it has become part of our routine. You grab one after story time and thrust it toward me and command me to “talk to him Papa!” You are such a mystery to me. But how can that be? How can you, who have been with me almost every day since your birth, except for those awful stretches of time when I had to be away for work, be so mysterious? There was a time when you were very small, when I prided myself in thinking I understood everything about you – even though you were unable to speak a word. I would sit with you and intuitively know when you were tired or hungry or cold or too warm and I would bundle or unbundled you or offer you something to eat or change your diaper. And now, now that you can actually make yourself understood, you are more and more difficult to decipher. Maybe I read too much into things – I do that with a great many of the events and experiences in my life. I look for reasons and causes and deep meaning in things that are often just what they appear to be. At night when you lie there with “baby” tucked up very close to your chin and you watch and listen to me interacting with a stuffed animal, you have this non-committal look on your face. Neither a smile nor a frown, just your lips held together and your tongue working back and forth in your mouth in that sucking action to do when you are very tired and about to go out for the night. Sometimes, when I’ve put the stuffed animal down and kissed you goodnight for the third or fourth or fourteenth time, you will say, “talk to me now Papa.” And so I do, I ask you what you would like to talk about or what subject you would like to discuss and your reply is often the same, “ I don’t know – just talk.” And all along I thought I was talking to you, that this little exercise was a way of saying things that were maybe a little sensitive or scary, like when we had the fire in the apartment next door and we all had to go outside early that morning and wait while the firemen put out the fire and gave the “all clear.” I think that’s when the whole thing started – the talking with the animals. I knew the fire had upset you a little but I didn’t know how much and so I used the animal as a way of explaining it, I let the animal express his concern, and mine. But what I didn’t realize was that you didn’t consider this conversation with Papa, and you clearly don’t. Sometimes I will turn the animals toward you and they will ask a question. Sometimes you answer and sometimes you just roll your head to the side and ignore them. And later, when you ask me to talk to you and I do, you are similarly disengaged, not all the time, but much of the time. Of course all of this is taking place in the moments before you sleep, you’re neither fully awake nor asleep but in some middle ground between the two. But I want so much to understand you and I want so much that you will feel free to tell me what’s on your mind. I want to hear all about your day, your playtime at kindergarten, your dreams and hopes and fears. I didn’t have conversations like these when I was a little boy and it was something I missed all my life. I know I’m trying to compensate for that sense of loss or emptiness with you. I’m aware of that but it doesn’t lessen the imperative I feel to open the channels, to provide you with every possible opportunity to express yourself. And so I talk to your animals and to you, and I hope it helps in some small way to connect the two of us and in so doing give you the firm and certain knowledge that I am listening as well as talking. It is the listening that is important and one day I hope you pick up one of the animals and talk to me.