Wearing a blue satin ruffled skirt, a T-shirt with a heart and an infectious smile Carly Elizabeth swayed into my home office, took my finger and walked me to the closet all the way across the house. She placed my walking shoes on the floor and looked up expectantly. “OK,” I said, slipping on my shoes. Taking my finger again she escorted me to Z’s office where my oversized Mad Hatter hat waited on the counter. Carly reached for the hat, all this without a word. “OK,” I said again, adjusting the oversized hat, and we paraded to the front door. Out we went across the drive and up to the street. “Are there any cars?“ I asked. Carly pointed to several parked along the curbs. “What about any moving cars?” She shook her head and we proceeded across the street. “Halloween is coming,” she said, and indeed it is.

At 2.3 years young Carly’s complete humanness is blossoming like a spring morning, deepening and expanding. Puzzles that used to frustrate are now a snap. Snuggling this morning she climbed over and said, “TaTa make coffee and nolla?” (Her two-ish iteration for granola.) “Do you want coffee and granola?” I asked. “Yep,” she said. Yes, I offer Carly a sip of my coffee in the morning. If everyone else is having granola and coffee, why would we exclude Carly? It makes no sense. Do as I say but not what I do creates a pervasive division, a lack of mutual trust, respect and ambiguity. Joseph Chilton Pearce said it simply; ‘a child not restrained needs no restraint.’ Sure, we need to protect our children from dangers. Save your energy for exploitative media, GMOs and compulsory schooling. A taste of coffee in the morning or a tiny sip of wine is inclusive. Feeling included and her need for being so honored Carly reaches for her cup of water or fresh coconut milk, no longer interested in our forbidden fruit.

The first year is devoted to awakening and mastering the senses; touch and movement and building basic trust in every sort of relationship. Upon this foundation, now well established, abstract concepts, symbols, past and future, words and complex arrangements of new and more complex words with their explosive meanings take center stage. Dramatic growth and development the first year is easy to spot; rolling over, crawling, standing, walking and running. What is more elusive is the life and world transforming emergence of abstract concepts; past, future, good, bad, funny, scary, story and identity. It is estimated that there are 1,025,109 words in the English language fabricated from 26 alphabet symbols. What about French, German and all the others? What about Mandarin and Sanskrit? And these are simple words. How many combinations can we make of these, each representing a different meaning? I love you is very different from I hate you. What a difference a word can make. This is the creative world Carly is beginning to explore. And how easy it is to miss her latest discoveries. They come so fast.

In bed this morning when Carly said, “TaTa make coffee and nolla,” Z nor I could make out what nolla meant. There was a pause. Carly knew we did not understand and at the same moment she also knew her pronunciation had failed. There was a gap in shared meaning. It took several tries and a bit of charades before we were back in sync. This happens all the time. We are so quick. Creating and maintaining a steady flow of shared meaning is the key to everything. During the first year, forget words, shared meaning was done with touch, movement, inflection and gesture. Now, and upon that foundation, this new world of abstractions is being layered. Somatic literacy is being blended and expanded with symbolic literacy. We dults, being so off in our heads, often fail to appreciate that the somatic and the symbolic are always paired. The moment by moment and ever-changing social-emotional-sensory context is an integral part of the symbolic meaning being shared. Just yesterday Z was frustrated about a business challenge. Her words said one thing but her emotional context said something completely different. Ferreting out and being clear with the split-meaning is challenging for her and for me. And, I am afraid, this split is often present in our communication with children.

As challenging as it is, and it is challenging, we must constantly strive to look at the experience we create through our child’s eyes, his or her age-specific senses, emotions and cognitive capacity. Like any little one Carly is completely captivated by the moment. Words; we think they are soooo important. But to little ears they are faint and distant echoes. The more abstract the concept the vaguer and more distant our meaning is. Take a breath. Give them a moment to complete this moment before we repeat with care and respect ‘our’ story. Wait for a second and their attention will shift. Then they might be ready to hear why this or that is important.

Halloween is here. The sun is setting and little feet are running to the door. This moment is unique for Carly, Z and me. No Halloween has ever been quite like it and none will ever be the same. We marched into the evening light laughing and blowing kisses.

Michael Mendizza