When Missy is in a bit of a mood, she can suddenly become the most knowledgeable person on the planet.
“Come on, Missy, it’s time to step out of the tub.”
“Sorry, Miss, the tea’s not ready yet. It should be just a couple more minutes.”
“Remember, seat belts before music.”
It doesn’t take two years of living with Missy to discover that “I know” is often code for “I’m tired, I’m cranky, I don’t feel like doing this.” Or occasionally, it means the more difficult “I know, I want to do this too, but I’m not allowed to agree with you yet.”
Except when it doesn’t, of course.
I wonder if U.N. translators ever have days like this?
If you’re joining us for the first time, Missy is my wife’s disabled aunt, a woman who’s nearly 40 physically but often seems much younger mentally. How much younger? It’s hard to say. Many of her actions and activities suggest around age 4, but she’ll follow conversations and even the plots of books like a young adolescent, at least.
The trick is, she doesn’t say much. So it’s hard to say what she truly doesn’t know and what she knows, but can’t communicate.
We encourage her to use her words, of course. But we’ve also learned to listen carefully to the ones she does use.
Some are obvious. “Dumb dog.” “I’m goin’ bowling.” “I want to eat the food.”
Some are more subtle. “I wan’ my book” can mean she’s ready for reading time, or that she’s looking for her big red purse. We think that comes from “pocketbook,” though the purse in question is a wee bit bigger and only slightly less dense than her bowling ball.
“I’m cold” usually means any temperature change (it was a major breakthrough when we heard her use the word “hot” recently). “Work” is her day program. “Mom” is often Heather and sometimes me, though I’ve also been “He” or even “Frank,” the name of her late dad.
And once in a great while, you get something more. My personal favorite, told before, remains the day her dad had a close call in traffic. Missy the Silent, Lady of 100 Words, immediately turned to him and said “Dammit, Frank! Are you trying to kill me?”
So what does she know? More than we think. I’m sure of that. If I were to step behind her green eyes for even a moment, I suspect I’d be shocked by just how much is going on there.
But then, isn’t that true of most of us? So often, we take refuge in routine phrases and conversations, giving little hint to the real landscape inside. Only the trusted, the careful and the lucky get a clue otherwise.
With Missy, I feel like a bit of all three.
So I listen. And I wait. And piece by piece, we build a connection that goes beyond the audible words.
That’s how you make a friend. A family. An understanding.
And if it means climbing a wall of stubbornness at times, it’s familiar territory. Heaven knows I’ve been hard-headed, too; maybe even with less reason.
But the end result will be worth it. Is worth it.
How am I so sure?
Trust me. I know.