I Can’t Talk!

When our youngest daughter was eight, she wanted a mouse.  A white mouse.  We already had a pretty good dog, but Leah wanted a mouse to keep in her bedroom.

My wife, Melissa, has an aversion to rodents, so you can probably guess who Leah approached to maximise her probability of success.

As a management consultant in one of my former careers, I’d negotiated contracts on behalf of my clients — agreements that saved these firms a lot of money.  Regardless of how much pressure or risk was involved, I’d always felt confident I could come out on top in a negotiation.

Until I became a father, that is.

Pleading mouse requests peppered us from all directions:  While toasting bagels, on drives to the equestrian barn, around the dinner table, at bedtime.  Everyday.  Multiple times per day.  Verbally and in writing.

Eventually Leah wore me down with her tireless, incessantly ruthless pre-installed perseverance.  I buckled to the pressure and made a proposal to her.

“Okay, Okay!  Go forty-eight hours without talking and I’ll …”

“Dad?”

“… I’ll take you to the pet store to choose a mouse.”

Melissa glared at me with a weird mixture of compassion and betrayal.  More betrayal than compassion. Her body language said, “Robert, you’re such a sucker, and where by-the-way do you think you’ll be sleeping for the next week?”

“Don’t worry, Sweetie, we’re so safe.  Not talking isn’t even within Leah’s realm of possibilities.”

“You’re on Dad!  I’m gonna get that mouse!”

Leah’s initial attempts to not talk lasted only a few seconds. An experienced chef couldn’t soften a stick of butter in a microwave before Leah would speak.  She was so used to rattling on about whatever was on her mind whenever it was on her mind, it took superhuman effort she didn’t possess to hold her tongue.  We don’t need Lev Vygotski to tell us that eight-year-old girls tend to process externally, and Leah was no exception.

Gradually, seconds turned into minutes, and then months later into hours. When Leah discovered she could annihilate oodles of hours just by going to bed, she began to wipe out 40% of her mouse requirement without much effort. Sometimes in the morning, for some cruel fun, we’d ask her how she slept, and she would tell us. Back to square one.

Eventually, becoming more aware of her own limitations, Leah devised new ways of managing her spontaneous blurting.

One involved duct tape.  While it certainly slowed her lips down, it seemed to have little impact on her tongue.  Even so, duct tape became a regular accessory sported by her beautiful face. 

Another tactic was a sign she would hold or wear, reminding others of her plight, hoping to elicit empathy, while resisting the urge to converse …

That Christmas, I surprised Leah with a small wrapped box with a tiny toy white mouse inside.  She wasn’t amused.

Against all odds, about eighteen months after launching into this quest, my unstoppable daughter stopped speaking for forty-eight hours.

All the way to the pet store she wore a look of satisfied accomplishment.  Melissa and I were actually proud of her.  She did something that was difficult and against her ebullient nature.  She had earned her reward.

Upstairs in her room Leah placed “Snowbell” in his terrarium-style home, and set the custom-fitted screen on top so he couldn’t escape.

Later that evening, after saying a sweet “Good night” to the white mouse she’d worked so hard to qualify to adopt, Leah climbed into bed feeling satisfied.  (The realisation that mice were nocturnal creatures was yet before her.)

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”
Proverbs 22:15

During the night Snowbell naturally explored his new home, giving special attention to the metal screen covering his glass apartment.  He’d never seen one of those before.  Hanging upside down, chewing and scratching on the screen, rather than engaging in quieter activities like working out on his wheel or relaxing on his fresh bed of shavings.

Waking suddenly from a deep sleep to strange sounds in her room, Leah quickly realised the noises were originating in the mouse house.  Jumping out of bed still groggy from sleep, and seeing him upside down, Leah bopped the screen with her hand where Snowbell was stretched (rather immodestly), surprising him and sending him plummeting downward.

That would teach him.  Now she could get some sleep.

In the morning, much to her horror, Leah discovered Snowbell motionless on the floor of his home.  Her heart was broken, realising she must have been too rough with her nighttime correction.  She reached down and cradled him in her hands.  Our hearts were broken for her.

Our family had a little funeral for Snowbell that afternoon, and buried him in the backyard.

Now we were back to being a family with a pretty good dog and no mouse, in just a matter of days.

Not sure what the moral of this story is.  I welcome my readers’ suggestions.

I think the bigger issue is that these are formative experiences for our kids.  Something Leah had worked so hard for was gone in a heartbeat.

The positive side of this story is that she learned how to work through her own weaknesses for something she really wanted.  We’d want that to be her takeaway.

Oh, and her sign still hangs in my study.

Blessings on your home,
robert

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