#SOL2015 21/31 Sometimes it is not our words

Slice of Life logo


The pan is sizzling and I can smell the hamburger frying in the pan. The wall fan is rattling as it pulls the smells and hopefully the grease out of the kitchen. Mom is standing in front of the stove stirring and staring at the wall in daze. I am fidgeting as I sit at the small wooden table. My words are tumbling out so fast. There is a story to tell and I must get is out before I lose it.

My mother turns slowing, saying just go write it down Jo. I need to finish dinner. Her voice is tired, a bit sad but I feel anger, frustration. Doesn’t she get it – I have to tell it. My words won’t go on paper. I am afraid of paper and pencils. The words come out all upside down and backwards. There are so many words I can’t write because I don’t know which letters go where. Is it a t or a d? Is it ie or ei? I know the story just not the paper and pencil story.


This is me at age 8 or 9. I walked away from that kitchen scene many times thinking I can’t do it. I walked away in my child’s mind thinking she doesn’t think I can be a writer. She doesn’t think I am smart enough.

In fact, her words were saying – go write you have good ideas. I just couldn’t hear it through her body language, her voice tone and my own learning issues. She was tired with little time on her hands. A single mother raising three kids. I was afraid with a learning disability struggling to make sense of the words on the page. I had mastered the reading of letters but not the writing of them. (In fact some letters still like to jump places when I am writing today.)

It was the tone and body that I read in those days. They spoke louder than her words. I thought about this yesterday as I sat in the back of a classroom making books with kids. Everyone was tired. It was a long week and behaviors were not good. It was so easy to give the students message we did not want to give them. The words we were saying were positive but the tone, the body language we used on this late Friday afternoon was saying something different. The kids also had that tone of a to short temper and the hip that juts out to the side as they said they were going to the circle or they were cleaning up.

It is not only our spoken words that give us a messages. I think about it now when I am tired and a bit grumpy – what message is my body giving these students, what messages are they getting for a very tired parent at home?

Teaching and parenting are both hard work. It is not always clear what messages we are sending and how they are being received.

Something to think about –

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to #SOL2015 21/31 Sometimes it is not our words

  1. bevbaird says:

    What a moving post Joanne. I could feel your pain and picture you suffering. It’s true, how we interact with our students and our own children, that it is not only words but our body language that they pick up on. My youngest used to get angry with me because though I was listening I wasn’t looking at him, as I was doing something else. He just wanted my full, not distracted attention.

  2. I can’t recall where I read this but it was a piece of research that insisted that we read body language, gesture more dominantly than any other type of communication. Your SOL shows that. There’s also the recoding we do of life’s experiences: what we recall from childhood is recoded, informed by who we are today.

    How brave of you to figure out ways to calm those jumping letters.
    How fortunate for all of us that you did so that we now have your words to guide us, inspire us.

  3. bennisbuzz says:

    I often revisit past “mother” and “teacher” moments with regrets. Too busy, too tired, too… You are so right “sometimes it is not our words.” Great post. D 🙂

  4. jmjd says:

    Love how you grounded this larger truth in something so specific. All who read it will be more mindful on Monday. Thanks.

  5. This is how it has always been with me, too. I interpret the mood tone of the situation much more than the words. The words confirm or deny what is being said. I have experienced this and am sensitive to it. With that in mind it does not mean I am always successful in avoiding it in working with my students. I do reflect on it and pursue change.

  6. mvervinck says:

    You are so right. Our actions do speak louder than words. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle it is easy to forget that. There is a great TED talk about ‘faking until you become it.’ Sometimes, though, it is so darn hard to do. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Lori says:

    This is so true. It will make me more mindful. Thank you

  8. arjeha says:

    We often send silent messages and are not always aware that we are doing it. Thank you for making us think about not only our words, but also our body language.

  9. Excellent post! I often will smile at my husband and his response is “What?” It always confuses me when he does this. He tells me my body language doesn’t match my smile… after reading your slice I need to reexamine my body language!

  10. incredible…your story…I love how you linked this to the classroom and their attitudes…attitudes are everything. xo nanc

  11. jhaworthoy says:

    This is so true…we don’t even realize that our body and tone can send mixed messages…and what we mean to say gets lost. Thanks for posting this as a reminder to all of us that it is not just words that our children, students and friends and loved ones hear. Jackie

  12. Jennifer says:

    Jo, thanks for sharing. I am loved by two parents, but even as a 44 year old woman I still remember the non-verbal messages that two tired, stressed, and impatient adults imprinted on my brain. Your post reminded me to choose careful words with my students. I appreciate what you wrote and think you are a good writer.

  13. barbarasut says:

    A piece written with a lot of soul searching and love. I especially liked the opening scene which put us immediately into your earlier life. Good writing! It’s hard to believe you ever had (have) such a disability. Even more kudos to you for never giving up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s