32 years ago, this girl came into our life. Our life changed shortly after that day, the learning curve steep, the highs and lows ridiculously extreme, and not much in the middle. None of which is to say we are not celebrating Nani’s life. We celebrate this middle daughter of ours. She is a gift!
If someone had told me all those years ago I would never hear her speak nor would my words reach her, and any kind of communication system would be limited at best, I would have assumed I would never really know Nani. But while the limitations are true, there is a great depth to our communication. Sure there are gaps and things she can’t tell me, and things I have no way to explain. But we do hear each other.
The hardest part for me is in the listening. It’s in remembering that all behavior is communication. It’s in remembering that Nani has a right to have her communication respected, and when she is telling me “NO!”, in every way she knows how to say it, I need to listen. I need to let her NO!, mean no. Many days I’m the one with the greatest lack of communication skills.
There are memories of times I didn’t listen which still make me catch my breath and tear up. Times she needed me to hear her so badly. The many times I watched her retreat deep inside, as she sadly resigned herself to my hardness of heart and hearing. Then there are the memories that make me smile and laugh with pride at her genius and perseverance. The times Nani found a way to say, “Can you hear me now?”.
One of those times was during her middle school years. I’d developed a bad case of stupid and insisted upon her wearing a pair of denim shorts to school, even though I knew full well she preferred a soft knit. Our conversation went like this: I got the shorts out, put them on the bed. She threw them back into the closet and closed the door. I retrieved the shorts while she chose another pair. She took my choice and threw it down the hall, and began putting on her preferred pair. I again retrieved the shorts and pointed to them emphatically, and begin to try to get the other shorts off of her. She resisted. (I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a bad case of stupid, was I?)
Suddenly she complied. This gave me pause as it was not a typical scenario. Of course, my stupidity caused me to begin trying to pinpoint what amazing communication tool had I used to reach her. Was it the emphatic pointing, was it my holding the line? I’d have to study that later, she needed to get to school. The rest of our time went smoothly and I dropped her at the classroom door.
A few hours later her teacher called to say Nani had done something a bit strange that morning. Kris reported Nani going straight to her locker and getting her extra set of clothes. This seemed unusual since Nani had never initiated changing just for the sake of changing. My vast intuition and insight allowed me to guess correctly that it was only the shorts Nani wanted to change. Laughing, I said that it was fine with me. Nani’s sudden compliance now made sense.
But Kris had not called about Nani changing her shorts, but because she was insisting on throwing the denim shorts into the trash. They retrieved them and showed Nani that the shorts should go into her backpack. But she was not having it. She would get the shorts out of her backpack and put them back in the trash. They tried ignoring the behavior, waiting until she was distracted, and trying again. Nani began periodically checking to make sure the shorts remained trashed. After a few rounds of this, she pulled the trash can close to her chair to make monitoring easier. Kris said Nani was clearly getting frustrated and wanted to know how I preferred she handle this. I confessed I had forced the issue, and told Kris to leave the shorts in the trash. As far as I was concerned, Nani had earned the right to settle this argument once and for all.
Non-verbal? Yes. Non-communicative? NO!
And to think some people believe she doesn’t have problem solving skills either.