Lent Journal, Day 2
Yesterday afternoon the dog and I went for a walk in the snow. I should clarify: we went for a walk while the snow was falling and we walked on the sidewalk. The snow was that sort of big, fluffy-flake variety that my wife calls “snow globe snow.” As it coated the sidewalk, the path had the appearance of the first layer of blown-in insulation in an attic, a cottony, almost-fibrous, semi-transparent white coating laid over the concrete.
I was wearing a pair of slip-on canvas shoes with a textured sole, the sort that leaves very distinct patterned footprints in such snow or on the damp sand of undisturbed beaches. We’ve had several such snow falls this year and I’ve noticed that when the snow continues to fall and covers up those footprints, they harden. Later, when my neighbor or I get out our snow blowers and snow shovels and clear the sidewalk, those footprints left in the first snow fall remain, like the white-on-white pattern of an expensive dress shirt, evidence that someone has walked this way before.
Children, as those of us who have had or who have been children know, grow in their ability to communicate. Vocabularies grow. Grammars develop. They move from simple one- or two-syllable concepts – such as “Mama” or “Dada” or “NO!” – to more complex ideas.
When my niece was a toddler, she put together two concepts – negativity and certainty – in a way that was confusing to some adults. When asked if she would like to have something, say a food, she would answer, “Not sure.” If she had understood sentence structure or the concept of adverbs, she would have said, “Surely not!” But she didn’t yet understand those things: she understood negativity – “not” – and certainty – “sure” – and put them together in a way that made since to her.
Not to her grandmother, however. My poor mother never did get it that “Not sure” didn’t mean that my niece was undecided, so she would try to convince the girl that liver or broccoli or whatever was something she should try. But “Not sure” did not mean indecisiveness; it meant quite the opposite. “Not sure” meant “Dig-in-the-heels screaming-fit absolutely not; don’t try to change my mind.”