By Dave Brewster
"Dad, he needs you."
"Who, your brother?"
"Yah, he got hurt."
"Okay." I walk across the yard to the driveway where a child lies face down, legs entangled in the frame of his bike and tears rolling down his distraught red face.
"What's the matter? . . . What's wrong? . . ." ? No answer. But it's not that I'm not getting any response. It's because the little guy can't seem to speak over his own tear-filled sobs . . . So I turn to the nearest suspect and ask, "What happened?"
"I was just . . ."
"No. How did your brother fall?"
" . . . But he - "
"No. Why is your brother on the ground?"
"I pushed him because blah blah blah blah blahhhhh..."
I used to indiscriminately jump at the sound of their cries, but not anymore. Have I become callous? Uncaring? Unconcerned? No. Just the opposite. Oh, I scanned the crime scene as I seemed to stroll across the yard, so I've a pretty good idea what happened before I get to the victim . . .and there's no blood ? that's a key fact. More importantly, I think I've become more sensitive and acutely aware of my children's expressions. When they were babies, I used to have to guess what was wrong and then guess how to fix it. And then somewhere along the way, I started to learn the lingo. I think I've developed a pretty good ear, or at least some reasonable intuition for interpreting the many varieties and nuances of unintelligible cries from any one of my
The Tantrum: Hysterical, full body writhing, and senselessness. A good indicator that they aren't getting what they want and think that somehow this ought to do the trick.
The Multi-Syllabic Cry: A melodramatic demonstration of crying, often used to indicate a need for attention. Distinguishable by a rhythmic pulse of noise, separated by intermittent momentary pauses or breaths.
Body language is the giveaway as the child is usually standing there facing whoever's attention they are trying to attract, mouth agape, and eyes open and searching.
It would almost be musical if it weren't so relentless and annoying, until it thinks it's gotten its point across. Sometimes used in conjunction with The Wail for a very stirring arrangement, but don't let them see you laugh when you hear, "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah....(breath) Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah....(breath)..." 'cause that might just piss 'em off.
The Gurgle: Often prefaced by a few seconds of silence, an anguished face with a pulsing vein in the forehead, and then a dramatic change in the complexion from its normal color to a nice bright shade of red. More often witnessed in infants and toddlers, it's a good indicator of some kind of real discomfort, but you're never gonna really know what it is or how to fix it. If whatever you try doesn't solve it within a few minutes, abandon that effort and try something else. If that doesn't work, hand it to its mother.
Tearful Paralysis: This one you know is real. After a fall, they can't even move: TOTAL. BODY. PARALYSIS. You could run to the garage for a stick of sidewalk chalk and run back to the scene of the crime to draw a chalk outline around the body, and they'd still be in the same position until you come to help.
The sob, often combined with The Pout or The Sulk: Not quite crying, but clearly upset and expecting you to step up in your role as a parent, looking out for their best interest. Head hung low with drooping shoulders, you'll find this one quietly sitting in a corner, conspicuously inconspicuous, or walking away from the scene of the crime. If you lose track of them, go check their room or any of their favorite hiding spots. They can be unbelievably patient waiting for you to find them so that they can tell you how you or their siblings have failed them.
The Hissy Fit: You know that nothing has even happened or that what has happened is ridiculously minor, but psychologically they've just lost their minds at the thought of it. Wanna see one? The next time they have to go to the pediatrician's office for a shot, YOU take 'em, and have fun. Here's another one: The next time they scrape a knee, point out the most minor red dot you can see and ask if it's bleeding - see what happens . . .
Of coooooouuuurse these don't apply to all kids. Sometimes I can't even squish one of my own boys' little fits into one of these neat little packages for interpretation, treatment, and release back into the field. But as the summer approaches, take a look around. At the playground, the beach, a town playing field, on a plane, or at your favorite restaurant, you will bear witness to some screaming kid putting on an embarrassing display for the whole world to see. Take an extra minute or two to consider the situation, because it's a lot easier to pass judgment on someone else's child and their poor parenting skills than your own: What is that kid trying to say with all that nonsense? . . . and what would you do if it was yours?