Talking to children

It’s been a long, long time since I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds all the way through. But last year while visiting my dad I watched about half of it on Turner Movie Classics (great channel!)—something came up, and I never got back to it.

It’s a good movie, but what struck me this time around is a snippet of dialog that is not really connected to the story, except maybe to throw a bit of light on Lydia (Mitch’s mom, who is none too thrilled about the budding relationship between Melanie and Mitch).

LYDIA
I’m not this way, you know. Not
usually. I don’t fuss and fret over
my children.
(pause)
When Frank died…
(pause)
You see, he knew the children, he
really knew them. He had the knack
of being able to enter into their
world, of becoming a part of them.

That’s a rare talent.

MELANIE
Yes.

LYDIA
I wish I could be that way.

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I’ve never seen that mentioned as a desirable parenting skill. And yet I’d say it’s at the core of how I relate to children, my own and anyone else’s. I don’t think I developed it until I had kids of my own—no opportunity to exercise it, really.

But since then I’ve learned to have long, respectful conversations with children of any age. Once I was working the sound system at a church, and after the service the pastor told me that he had come over to tell me something, then come back a few minutes later, then come back later a third time—and finally given up because while I was setting up I was also chatting with a seven-year-old whose father was out of town for the week. I was able to enter into her world enough to have a substantial conversation about what was going on in her life at the moment. It didn’t strike me as unusual, but it seemed very unusual to him (in a good way).

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