when one is in the midst of a torturous limbo, it is very helpful to have a toddler around.

with a toddler around, it’s difficult to slip entirely into the doldrums. not only are there beams and giggles to buoy one up, but also the adrenalin of constant demands that threaten to escalate into disaster: one’s toddler may at any moment morph into a raging hippopotamus if one is not on one’s guard for signs of impending recalcitrance. this keeps one busy. as does the constant rampage of activity that doesn’t leave an excess of time for thought of any sort, let alone the melancholy kind. and the headbutts – a reliable and loving source of maniacal toddler laughter – that must be neatly dodged if one wishes to escape concussion…they’re good too.
basically, Oscar is a comfort to me. an exhausting comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.

however, he’s not a great listener.

i don’t mean in the “please put your shoes over there, Oscar” sort of way. he’s pretty entertained by the praise he gets for compliance with these little locational requests, so he listens, and beetles around, placing objects in their respective spots. and we clap. we’re either teaching orderliness or an unhealthy reliance on external motivations…yay for parenting by guesswork! at least the closets are tidy.

it’s in the deeper realm of heart-to-heart communications that O’s skills seem…off. i hold him tight before bed these nights, breathing in his downy head, and i tell him, low and soft, how much his mama loves him. and he kicks me, hard. or i pet him gently, rocking, while he shouts “baaaaaaa!” with the intensity of a rugby captain. i get the feeling we’re out of sync, my boy and i, in the give and take of our conversations. and it’s not just him. the other day, he gazed into my eyes with grave seriousness and pronounced, “ma ba guh weewa papap oooo.”

and i thought, erm, yes dear. was that “the cat is orange, mama”, or “i have existential angst about my place in the world”? ’cause, y’know, they maybe warrant a different response, just possibly. but me? clueless.

clearly, i do not speak toddler.

communicating with Oscar these days reminds me of my early days abroad, in whatever country i happened to be in at a given time, since i spoke the local language of, erm, not a single place i ever went. (except Scotland. but i didn’t understand them either). rather, i spent most of my life as an expat engaged in the exaggerated and poorly paid art of mime, at which i came to believe i excelled. whenever i wanted something whose name was not in my minimal vocabulary, why, i did not fear, oh no. i stepped boldly over the threshold of whatever nearby establishment seemed most likely to be related to my need, armed with a smile, and began to gesticulate wildly and frantically to the poor soul behind the counter. drinks and smokes and stationery? no problem. bus tickets? all good. toilet paper? sometimes a little more embarrassing to act out…especially for the third time in a row, when one’s confused – or bemused – charades partner keeps directing one off to the toilets (which, outside North America, seldom come with built-in wiping materials) rather than ponying up the paper goods to bring to said toilets. when i first found myself pregnant with Finn, in Korea, requesting “pregnancy test” from the lady at the local pharmacy turned out to be a passion play that involved half the neighbourhood and may have left one older gentleman scarred for life by that brazen foreign hussy and her penchant for peeing on babies.

these exchanges, always, were earnest and intense, peppered by basic words in two languages, but often completely at cross-purposes.

which is, i think, what’s happening with O and i. we don’t share the same language, right now. we share an understanding of simple nouns, in English, and if we keep our conversations confined to that subject matter then we can chat along like a house on fire. but whenever we get past basic requests for water or a kiss, observations of “a bird!” or “a plane!”, we struggle. we are like citizens of different countries, thrown together in the same house, each trying desperately to comprehend why the other acts so bizarrely, and figure out what s/he wants. and we flap our arms, or wheedle and cajole, or grin and babble and throw tantrums, all in the name, i think, of that very basic human desire: to be understood.

and even if he can’t fully understand me, he’s already doing exactly what i want and need…my small, funny, semi-foreign son, reminding me – no matter what – that not all is lost.