Joy, Language, and Toilet Learning – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

Today’s sum up is going to be a little different. It’s been a hard week for this country…a hard week in a hard month in a hard season.

I need a little light. I need a little joy, and that’s what I’m going to focus on today:

I spent the better part of my morning call watching a toddler play. She drew, she wandered around her house. She called for her dog and her Pappa as she sat in a sunlit room with her Momma. She built with Picaso Tiles (so cool) and smashed her mother’s creations. She spontaneously initiated a copycat tumbling game with her mother, too, using her eyes and giggles and sometimes her hands to explain the game. She recognized me…and she recognized the stuffed puppy and cat from class, bringing both hands together over her heart, like she was snuggling them.

I got an email from a parent today, telling me about how she misses class…and the way she described the light streaming into the room, I was there again. I miss that room. I miss our classes.


She went on to tell me all about her precocious toddler’s expanding vocabulary (and memory, woza), including a ‘naughty’ word or sentiment or two…but also including the fact that she owns her brilliance and is “super duper smart.” Love it!!! What did Magda say about self-confidence?

Speaking of language, I dusted off an old textbook to try to jog my brain back to the early 2000’s when I  spent a semester taking the surprisingly challenging CHDV4920: Language Development…turns out there’s a WHOLE HECK of a lot that goes into language development over the journey from crying to creatively swearing. Where was this TED Talk when I was studying?!

One thing about that video I absolutely adore is the 40 second audio clip at 5 minutes in the video…it is the evolution of his child learning to say the word water. He goes from “gah gah” to “water” If you listen carefully, you can hear the first time he pronounces “wa” instead of “gah”… he immediately went back to “gah”…but as you listen, a few more “wa”s slip in more and more frequently until…boom: “water.” Such a perfect, 40 second metaphor for all of development: we think of development as forward motion, steadily advancing…in fact, it is much more fluid than that, sometimes leaping ahead, sometimes hanging back…there’s overall progress, but it doesn’t always happen as neatly as we think it should.

The other thing I adored about the video…well, I won’t spoil it for you, it’s an interesting watch/listen… but he emphasized the importance of relationships and how children and caregivers influence one another in the process of learning to speak…just as I was influenced to watch the video after a chat with my Mom, who referenced it from when she was teaching education majors at Sweet Briar College. Another joy: conversations with my mother…both personal and professional. Lucky daughter am I.

What else? Hmm…

I relocated my computer to the desk in front of our huge sliding glass door, so I can look out at our lemon tree (which I always says grows ‘in spite of me, not because of me’). I left the slider open today so the fresh air and sunshine could spill in, along with the sounds of my neighbor’s laughter and chatter. I glanced over at one point and saw one of my cats unabashedly rolling around on his back, sunning his belly. To be honest, that moment was the impetus for this musing…his joy in the moment. I wanted that, too.

And I’ll leave you with one more… earlier this week, I delighted in listening to Kumiko’s children sing Do Re Mi (link for the nostalgia) at the very top of their lungs during lunch. And I remembered back to last week when her younger daughter dashed off to use the potty*, singing the Wheels on the Bus, also at the top of her lungs (how else does one sing, really?). Her older brother noticed, looking immediately to his mother to share his observation and giggles…then initiated a brilliant ‘call and response’ version of the song with his sister, to everyone’s delight. Their meals don’t always include singing, but they do always involve giggles and stories…and joy. Even on the hard days.

I hope this piece brings you a little joy whether today has been one of the hard days or not. And I hope you can join me on a call sometime in the future.



*if anyone needs the cliff notes on toilet learning again, please let me know, I can send them to you in a jiff! And here’s a little extra reading on the topic, courtesy of Caterpillar Cottage’s Director, Heather Malley.

And of course, I can’t let a Saturday go by without a little joyful inspiration from The Parents’ Tao Te Ching:

22. Your Greatest Legacy

If you want your children to succeed,
show them how to fail.
If you want them to be happy,
show them how to be sad.
If you want them to be healthy,
show them how to be sick.
If you want them to have much,
show them how to enjoy little.
Parents who hide failure, deny loss,
and berate themselves for weakness,
have nothing to teach their children.
But parents who reveal themselves,
in all their humanness,
become heroes.
For children look to these parents
and learn to love themselves.
Parenting need not be a burden,
one more thing you have to do
and don’t do well enough.
Instead, consider your failures,
your sorrows,
your illnesses,
and your difficulties
as your primary teaching opportunities.