15 August 2010

Speaking Out

Children spend a lot of their existence trying to find their voice. Not literally in the sense that they cannot speak, of course. They search for their voice in the sense that they are trying to discover who they are, what their existence means for the world around them, what they want to say to that world. This search can be confusing for them and those they spend a lot of time with. And this search is ongoing; many of us are still searching as adults.

Isaac's search for his voice can be a frustrating process. His father and I often ask a simple question and get contradictory answers in the space of thirty seconds. Part of finding his voice is becoming comfortable with the decision making process -- coming to a decision and committing to it. His first response is often reflexive, then after his brain has actually processed the question his logic and intellect come to a different conclusion. This process is slowest in the mornings. It can make breakfast decisions teary affairs.

I thought about how children go through this search for their voice as I read Bark, George by Jules Feiffer to Isaac. In it, a mother dog is trying to teach her pup to bark. Each time she prompts him to practice, he emits a different animal noise, as if he is trying to find the one that fits him the best. After a barnyard chorus of sounds, the mother dog takes George to a vet to find out what is wrong. It turns out that George had somehow swallowed a cat, a duck, a pig, and a cow. When all the animals are finally removed, George barks, to his mother's delight. He had found his voice.

This story could have been called "There Was A Young Dog Who Swallowed a Cat." The images of the vet reaching deep into George's throat to pull out yet another animal will have the kids laughing, and the mother's relief when he finally barks will resonate with all parents who have wondered if their children would ever accomplish a basic skill that it seemed like they would struggle with forever.

But it will also connect with children who are searching for their voice -- who are trying out new things to find the one that is comfortable on them. And just when we think the search may be over, George demonstrates that you can keep on experimenting because there are always new experiences to be found.

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