A small matter of communication

When I was small, I had this weird notion that my dad was somehow related to James Taylor. They were both tall and thin with dark hair and played the guitar. And my dad was always playing James Taylor’s music, first on the record player, then on cassette tape, then CDs, and now digitally – so Lily and I grew up listening to his music. I’m really not sure where that came from, that odd idea, but I like that part of the comfort I get from listening to James Taylor is based on a childhood sense of safety and parental presence. He’s also a pretty fun person to listen to, and I’m pleased that a birthday gift many years ago was a ticket from my folks to go see James Taylor in concert. I even proudly bought a concert t-shirt to commemorate the event.

Lily also grew attached to James Taylor’s music, it turns out, although it took awhile to figure that out. I don’t know how much I’ve talked about it, but Lily is verbal. Sometimes it feels like she never stops talking, honestly. That said, most people don’t understand what she’s saying; a lot of this is that it takes some getting used to, since her cleft lip, cleft palate and nasal malformations mean that she has had to learn how to breathe and talk comfortably over her lifetime, and she does sound a little weird. She doesn’t really close her lips when she speaks, so her M and P sounds are softer than they should be. I’m pretty used to it, and she and I have – as siblings do – our own little language conventions between us. I used to be the one person who could understand what she was saying when nobody else could. (Happily, since joining her supported living program, she’s gotten better at enunciating and has tried to emulate her staffers by using more complete sentences and more elaborate constructions, with a good deal of success.)

One of the less pleasant memories I harbor is that of not being able to understand what Lily was saying, for a few weeks (months?), when she was making a request. It seemed to be a music request, because she made it when the stereo was on, but I had no idea what she was getting at.

That is, of course, until the day that she happily named the song while it was playing, since I had finally put it on. And that song was James Taylor’s “Something in the way she moves.” Which, you know, I knew was the name of the song because I was able to read and I had an interest in learning song titles and artists; Lily had very little of that interest, as far as I knew, except for making requests, and couldn’t really read. (This was before she went blind – I don’t think I was older than 11 or 12 at the time.) So Lily had been requesting something along the lines of “she’s around me now” (a phrase repeated in the chorus), since she associated that with the song and had figured we’d all know what she was talking about. It’s not like we hadn’t all heard the song dozens of times, after all.

I communicated to my parents that Lily had been asking for this particular song with her previously incomprehesible request. After that, I – and they – started asking her to sing the songs she was asking for if we couldn’t figure out the lyrics that she was using to name them. Since she’s gotten older and more interested in music, she’s gotten a bit better about knowing that songs sometimes have names that she might want to learn if she’s going to successfully place music requests. And, it turns out, has become interested in thinking about song titles and artists the way I do, to a degree.

Now, if only I could convince her to listen to a bit more rock and just a little bit less opera… 🙂


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