Last week, my friend Cathy sent me a book called ‘Conversations with Children’, by the (in)famous psychoanalyst and psychiatrist R.D.Laing, in which he simply records (from notes or memory) conversations that he had with two of his children through a six year period of the 1970s.
Reading it has confirmed for me the value of recording conversations with your children, for a whole range of reasons, and convinced me that it is a particularly worthwhile thing to be doing now – forty plus years later. In the age of the smartphone, it is the image (both still and moving) which has come to dominate the record that we have of our children’s early lives. Even when we hear them speak (in the hundreds of short videos we have of them), we more often hear them in monologue than in conversation, and when it is conversation that we hear, the presence of a recording device (especially as it is usually placed in the space between their face and ours) cannot but alter the character of that conversation.
So I’m going to continue to record conversations with Tilly (and Kitty, down the track) and will continue to do so after the fact, like R.D.Laing, using memory and perhaps some notes subtly scribbled at the time (at least until the girls are aware enough of this activity to be made self-conscious by it).
I know this may sound like much too serious a justification for the recording of conversations so often characterised by playfulness and delightful absurdity, but there is, after all, nothing more serious than play. On top of which, I expect that (as with photos) when I look back at these conversations years from now I will see early hints of the characters, passions and identities that will emerge in my girls as they grow into women.
And so, with no further ado…
Tilly: This is a lady computer (lifting up the cover of a sketch pad as if it is the screen of a laptop) and that (pointing to our iMac) is a boy computer.
Me: What makes it a lady computer?
Tilly: It’s like the white computer (our laptop). It can open and shut, open and shut, open and shut, open and shut, open and shut, open and shut (she performs these motions as she describes them)*.
Me: What else makes it a lady computer?
Tilly: It’s not a lady computer. It’s a boy computer.
Me: Oh, okay… Sorry… So how do you know it is a boy computer?
Tilly: Because it has pictures of computers on it (she pauses to search for a word) on the thing with the pictures you can look at.
Me: The screen?
Tilly: Yes, the scream… It’s like the one on the skateboard.
Me: The skateboard, you say?
Tilly: This is your computer. I bought it for you from the shops.
Me: Oh, thanks sweetheart.
Tilly: You use the computer now, because I need to go to the toilet.
(she hops down from her chair at the table and walks to the door of the bathroom. As she reaches the door she turns her head and shouts to me over her shoulder)
Don’t forget to get some funny computers, okay!
Me: Done… Don’t forget to wash your hands.
* The screen/scream on our laptop is almost dead. To get it to work Susie and I have to open and close it over and over again until it finally decides to come on. This is why Tilly think that this is how you operate lady computers.