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I've always been fascinated by language and how it's used and over the years I've read article after article that explains how women use more words every day than men - some studies suggest that it's thousands more. I can't say for certain that this is true in every single instance, but I can tell you that from my experience that when I ask my husband a question he usually uses as few words as possible to get his point across, while I might go off on a tangent about something else entirely, or I might start randomly waxing poetic about a situation that happened six years ago.
My boys - especially Zachary - are for the most part just like my husband in this. Sometimes my conversations with Zachary go like this: "How was school today?" "Fine." "Just fine? Nothing exciting? Nothing bad? Nothing new?" "Same as always, Mama."
These kinds of conversations tell me a couple different things. 1) I need to ask better questions and 2) Zachary is a person for whom a few words will usually suffice.
And that's totally fine.
Except for the times when it's not.
At some point in their lives, my boys are going to need to express their feelings, their innermost thoughts, their emotions, and it's my responsibility to teach them the language that's necessary to do that.
It's really a two parter. Then need to know the right words to express how they're feeling, and maybe more importantly, they need to know that it's ok to use those words to convey their emotions and feeling to others.
We live in a society that prizes "strong and silent types." We live in a society that teaches people - but boys especially - to "suck it up" and to "act like a man" and to "never let them see you sweat."
But that's not what I want for my boys.
Imagine the frustration that you would feel if you have a certain emotion and the need to share it but the words that describe it have never been made a part of your vocabulary, or worse yet, that you were taught to believe those feelings weren't necessarily meant for you.
How would you react? How would you feel?
Anyone who has spent more than a minute around a toddler has seen this play out. The feelings are there but the vocabulary and maturity to express those feelings aren't developed enough to correspond, so there are inevitable tantrums. Crying. Hitting. Acting out. It's frustrating for everyone.
If boys and men really do use thousands fewer words per day, then it's my responsibility to try to teach my boys the right ones. I want them to know the exact words necessary to express everything from angst to irritation to boredom to anger to joy to elation to bliss and back again. And more importantly, I need them to understand that it's ok to let people know that they're feeling that way.
The privilege and the responsibility of this fall squarely on me.
I have no clue what I'm doing, by the way.
I have always been conscious to speak to them using vocabulary that I want them to know. I use words like "sympathetic" and "receptive" and "optimistic" and "courageous" and "determined" and "discouraged" and "embarrassed" and "resentful" and a million more every day. I look for opportunities to ask questions about how they feel about certain things. Sometimes it's sparked by a real life event, sometimes by a movie or a book, but I'm always on the lookout for an opportunity, then I help them work through the words in their repertoire until we find the right one to describe their feelings about it. Then after we find the words, we can better discuss those feelings. It's something. But it never feels like enough.
It's just one little thing out of a million and one little things that I'm responsible for teaching them. When I try to think of all the things they need to know to go live and be happy and healthy and productive boys, then eventually men, it seems so overwhelming that it's almost insurmountable.
But I keep trying.
And by sitting here, typing my own feelings out in a sometimes nearly incoherent string of thoughts and feelings, it helps me feel just a little more prepared and a little more capable of taking it on.
It still never feels like enough.
But I keep trying anyway.