Wordless conversations


We’re at the zoo, sitting in the small garden, just watching the people go by.

When you’re only one year old, it’s the comings and goings of people that remain fascinating, rather than the idle lounging of lions or water buffalo.

From her vantage point on the lawn, Helena watches the people come and go, babbling and giggling all the while, as tiny tots do, in a bid to attract as much attention as possible.

When none is forthcoming, she increases the volume, waves, and tries out a “real” word.

“Dada!”,”Mama!”, “Hi!”

It has the desired effect, and soon a host of admirers are upon her, chatting away and returning her waves and calls.

Delight all round.

Watching her however, I feel a slight pang of sadness. That little punch in the gut you get when nostalgia gets the better of you and you realise, very suddenly, and very briefly, that a moment has passed. That time has moved on.

There is my daughter, shuffling around in the grass, talking to people. Communicating and interacting with the world around her. Out and about and gaining in confidence and independence.

It’s a wonderful thing of course. This is what I am here to do. To teach her about the world. To show her the wonders around us. To encourage that sense of delight and adventure.

Yet here I sit, watching her, feeling amazed and proud and decidedly numb.

It’s not so much her independence that is knocking me sideways, so much as the realisation that a very special, very intimate period of communication is now coming to an end.

For the past year we have communicated wordlessly, often soundlessly. A glance was often enough for me to understand what was required.

The smallest of changes on her face and I would know what was going on inside that tiny mind.

I had expected this, of course. Happiness, anger, frustration, sadness, pain. All these large scale emotions are easy to anticipate and understand, even without the benefit of maternal instinct.

It was deciphering and anticipating the smaller emotions that astounded me.

Curiosity, uncertainty, pleasure, insecurity. Tiny, almost imperceptible shifts of meaning that moved across her face, through her eyes.

I didn’t understand that it was possible to communicate so freely, so easily and so instinctively, using this, most intimate and atavistic of languages.

A quick glance my way for reassurance, the last, soft squeeze of my hand before falling asleep, the quick smile of cheekiness before setting out on a mischievous mission. I saw and understood them all.

It’s often felt as though we possessed a secret language, the two of us. A code that only we could decipher.

But time moves on.

If there’s one thing having a child teaches you, it’s this. You see it progress, with every day, as you watch them grow.

Time is no longer abstract and invisible. It is there, in front of you. Growing and moving. And talking.

As I sat in the grass and listened to her sing and chatter I caught a brief flash of the future. Sensed the days that had already gone.

The melancholy only broken when Helena turned to look for me, all smiles and squeals, urging me to come on over and join in the fun.

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