Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

Now Means Now!


Bonding-Attunement, Parenting

Conflict with a young child is really crazy and yet, it happens all the time. We adults have forgotten how immense feelings can be. Imagine that every day is Christmas Eve, Santa is coming, and being told no, we have to sweep the floor or put on our shoes first. For Carly now is all there is. At times her frustration with us is bursting. When we say, “it is time to go,” that means NOW, not after we answer a few texts, dump the trash and pack the car. Luckily, at eighteen months (and a few days) the next moment will be Christmas too.

Our job is to make that moment a celebration. “Let’s dump the trash” becomes an event and with some playful tenderness each event is a celebration. By celebration I don’t mean a party with hats and horns. A celebration is any time I’m sharing an experience with another. Holding hands in the car is a celebration. Dancing and moving where Carly points are celebrations. Authentic play in any form is a celebration and Carly’s play is exploding just like she is. I’m stunned at how subtle play at her age can be. Imagine the ‘lead bell’ if I ignored her, dismissed her invitation to share this moment or communicate that what she is fascinated by is stupid. Quiet attunement, what we used to call bonding, is the key. Carly knows that what she is feeling and needing matters and this sets the template for her relationships with the world. Toss out the judgments. How long ago was it that we celebrated taking out the trash?

Carly Elizabeth is verbal most of the time, mimicking sounds that will soon become words. Just as her rocking patterns were practice for rolling over, pushups set the foundation for crawling, hoisting up on furniture was a prelude for walking, these toddler-sounds imitate the rhythms, cores sounds and inflections of adult speech. Listen carefully and you can hear the cadence, the pauses and feelings behind the O-Ah, O-Ah OOO-Ahhh. Z, Carly’s mother, is Czech. Just today I heard a little Czech in Carly’s banter. It wasn’t a word. It was a unique Czech sound. Soon a concept will click in Carly’s mind.

Physicist David Bohm wrote about the transformational power of a concept. His example was Helen Keller. Overcoming deaf and blindness Anne Sullivan used water from a well pump and the touch-experience of words being signed to awaken the ‘concept’ that the sensations being formed by signing in the palm stood for the experience of water splashing on Helen’s hand. The concept of metaphor was born, metaphor being the essence of language. Like lightening this insight – that one thing, in this case the tactical experience created by signing in the palm of a young girl’s hand, could be applied to everything. Everything has a name! The name is a metaphor for the thing, anything. An infinite row of dominos began to fall. In her own time Carly Elizabeth will soon experience that lightning bolt and her life will change forever.

We added a pint-size table, chair and a toddler rocking-Moose to Carly’s room. OMG what a change – not in the room, in Carly. I lay on a grey pillow as she climbs on the red-rocker, grabs the handles and away she goes, blabbing and giggling up one side and down another. In a blink she’s down, rounds the table, climbs over the back of the chair that I secured so it would not tip, and slid down in place, wiggling to get her legs under the table.

Sitting properly upright she opened a book, blabbing to herself and turned the pages just like the big people do.Carly touched every surface, examined each side, tested how sturdy and was ever-so careful climbing up, down, over, around and back again, absorbing every sensation, building maps she will use next round. Every now and then she looks up. I smile or place a different book on the desk. She spies a grumpy stuffed gorilla and drags it over the rocking-Moose. Nice! The gorilla may like a ride. Having done my time with puppets, knowing how they come to life, I animate grumpy, waving his furry hand and tilting his head as he begins to rock. Carly stares. Then she pulls the stuffed gorilla off the Moose and up she climbs. And this goes on all day, one event to celebrate after another.

Exponential is the word I use to describe her changes and everything matters. At dinner she reaches for the blue cheese, grabs a pinch, smells it, tastes it and hands it to me. Who needs words?

Michael Mendizza

PS, Three brilliant insights from Anne Sullivan:

Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.

People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.

Every renaissance comes to the world with a cry, the cry of the human spirit to be free.