Wednesday, 18 June 2014


I can’t remember the age my twins started to walk, but they crawled first – very effectively, which often delays walking by removing the necessity.

I know that the first time either spoke a word came after they began to walk. Perhaps eighteen months, then? That feels about right.

I recall it vividly. Some brickbuilt steps led up from the lawns where the children played at their grandparents’ home. Hastings is a coastal town so every dwelling perches on a steep hill one way or another, and many gardens here are terraced.  At Grandma and Granddad’s house, the front path sloped down to the front door, and the land fell away at the back. A patio ran the width of the house at the back, a rockery and herb bed planted on the steep slope down from it to the lawns, with two sets of steps between the two heights – one of wide concrete slabs where lizards sometimes ran out of the fringing heather to bask, the other being smaller brick steps less daunting for a small child to manage.

And Alice was following her twin sister Hebe up those brick steps on the day Hebe spoke her first word. She stumbled, and exclaimed: “Whoops-a-daisy!”

She didn’t speak again for some months, and she remembers why.

Before children begin to articulate words, they communicate telepathically. We can trace this in our twins. They have a clear recollection of a day when, sitting in their green pram together (again at Grandma’s house; it was her pram), they wanted to get out and play. They discussed this dilemma and decided to call for help. The first person who passed by was their eldest sister. They called her but to their disappointment she ignored them (as did all the adults). Then they saw their second eldest sister, and when they called her she heard them and came to see what they wanted. They told her they would like to get out and play, so she ran and fetched an adult to lift them down.

The particularly interesting thing about this event is that we had that green pram only up until they reached six months old – after that it was too small for them. So this complex communication took place about a year before either of them spoke.

Hebe remembers the shock that reverberated through both her and her twin when she said that “Whoops-a-daisy” at eighteen months. It felt threatening. As soon as she said it, she had the sensation of standing at a threshold, the doorway into a world of speech where Alice (her twin) could not go with her. She chose to wait for Alice, and not go through. When Alice was ready, they went together.

Hebe is a very inward, reticent person, like a quiet dark stream under the shade of trees, running unseen between steep banks clad in moss and fern. She sees more than she says, and is capable of more than people generally notice. Gifted and wise, she lives hiddenly, observant of the ways of insects, birds and small mammals, familiar with hedgerow plants, sensitive to the soul of stone and what it wants to be. Reticence is a strong component of her nature.

I see in my granddaughter Iceni similarity to her Auntie Hebe. Iceni reminds me of Hebe at that age. She is not quite so shy (my twins would bury their faces in my skirt or in their hands if anyone looked at them), but she does take a while to warm up to a social encounter. She peeps cautiously; and her smile, when it comes, begins with a small quirking lift of one side of her mouth for quite some while before her face lights up fully.

Iceni, at almost a year, has for some time understood what is being said to her and knows many words; but she only half says them – she can’t quite bring herself to pull them entirely into form. She enjoys sharing in a “Hi five!” – but she says a soft, hardly noticeable “ha . . .v . . .” to express it. She loves to rock on her rocking horse to the song “Horsey, horsey don’t you stop” (and gets sad and cross if she can’t enlist anyone to sing it for her). She joins in with faint sounds and a “p” to go with “stop” and “clippety-clop”.

She will respond to questions and murmurs faint words for her brother, her mother, her father – all of whom she loves with a most tender devotion; but she has this profound reticence in which her speech is still enfolded.

A couple of weeks ago, she had a bath at our house – in the big bath because the kitchen sink was cluttered with pots waiting to be washed.

Her nappy was not wet, so before she went in the bath I sat her for a few moments on the toilet. Her mother is very tuned in to her – her mother (Buzzfloyd) is that second eldest sister who “heard” our twins calling her telepathically at five or six months of age – and follows that practice (I can’t remember what it’s called) where you don’t try to potty-train the child but tune in to its bodily rhythms and pop it on the toilet at the point it’s ready to go; she does this with some success.

So I sat Iceni on the toilet, and asked her “Do you want to do a wee?”

With a tiny, definite, brisk, quick little movement she shook her head “no”. The least possible expression of what she wanted to say; but very clear. Again, it had the quality of reticence. She knew perfectly well what I was about, what opportunity was being offered her, and how to communicate her “no”. But I had the sense that even that small expression cost her something – put her in a position of being more forthcoming than she was really ready to be.

I think it is likely this quality of reticence will remain a component of her personality all her life. She has a life-and-soul-of-the-party side to her too, when she’s in the mood. I see inner strength and quiet confidence in this child. Iceni is a good name for her.


Ganeida. said...

Iceni is such a lovely, strong name. I am sure it suits her well.

Our twins developed their own language ~ which they taught their younger sister. I wish now I had paid more attention. I know there were nouns & verbs, little else, but it was inconvenient having 3 speaking a foreign language! They were in high school before they really stopped using plural pronouns to refer to themselves. It was always, we, us, ours, never I, me, mine.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, how interesting! Ours invented one particular phrase I've felt the English is definitely in need of: "So at me." They used to to mean I feel the same way, or I want one too, or I agree, or yes I think so too. A most excellent phrase.
Another saying (this was Hebe) addressed to their baby sister - "Fiona! Stop louding!"

Deborah said...

'Elimination Communication' is what you are looking for :-)

Julie B. said...

What a beautiful child Iceni is.

I loved reading how Hebe told Fiona to stop louding. Children are so wonderful...truly full of wonder.

You speak/write now and again of how different your family is, not fully able to do the same things job-wise in the world as perhaps some others, the need for quiet and contemplation. How there's a tendency toward depression, etc. I definitely relate to that with my family. But this post highlighted to me how insightful, wise, kind and knowing your family is. How they look out for each other, not just with words but with feelings and tacit understanding. I think you are all blessed to have each other, and I can only imagine how Michael and Iceni will tell of the memories they have of their grandmother and how she loved and taught and understood them.

I have mightily resisted being withered by some in my family, and I fight being a witherer myself. It seems to me that a person could really bloom in yours. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

Deborah - 'Elimination Communication'! Thant's the one! Thank you. xx

Julie - Hello - waving! Yes, we are mighty dysfunctional but we do stick together. xx

Deborah said...

Mum was telling me about a TV programme she was watching about babies. It featured a deaf couple with a hearing child. The couple communicated by sign language and apparantly the baby was using sign language from 5 months old. I found that interesting.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes! Here in Hastings (an no doubt in other places too) we have signing classes for parents and babies, so they can communicate what they are feeling and what they want before they learn the spoken words. x