by | Jul 16, 2009

At first kids are so slippery with their tongues they can’t quite get the words out when they are young. Then, as they start to learn how to speak, their development grows and they are shouting for what they want until, for my kids, the teenage years hit, then all the work that went into teaching them how to pronounce words and hit the syllables just right, went

out. They were slouchy and difficult to understand every which way.

The main words, out of my mouth were, “Huh?, What was that you said? I can’t understand you.” Which they retorted with, “Mom, you’re getting older, you probably need a hearing aid.”

Okay. That’s one diagnosis. And, that’s a good one, probably should get the ears checked. After all I ran them right over to the doctor when they weren’t able to hear my calling them when they were little. Oh, and we found out, the ears worked perfectly fine, which helped them show up more, and stop saying, “I didn’t hear you.”

But lately, we are in the same room, and I can’t understand them. They mumble, groan, yawn, and generally space out whenever I try and discuss something with them. Pointing this out only led to more moans and groans.

So, in order to find some solace and support at home, I taught the dog to mumble. It wasn’t easy since she is naturally programmed to bark. It took a lot of interest in the little bits of cheese and chicken in my fingers to restrain her little vocal muscles and hold back the bark, and come up with a nice low groan or mumble. I spent the better part of a week, while the kids were in school, training my dog to do the exact thing that my kids were doing naturally. Crazy fun, huh?

It actually made me think about how much energy goes into mumbling: missing the point, not hearing what was said, not asking for clarification, assuming the other person understands you, eeking out pieces of information, etc. My little dog was doing her level best to really get this mumbling thing down, and it wasn’t easy for her. She really wanted to understand exactly what I wanted. Wow! I knew all the characteristics first hand, from my kids, and so I had to involve her in a great dialogue of proper mumbling, and not just a little mumble but a full out one.

Also during this training, I started to see the mumbling that the kids were doing as just little wisps or puffs of incongruity, nothing really. So what if I didn’t understand that there was a form for me to sign for them to go on a school outing. I only heard a half said sentence with some innuendo in it. After all, they never checked to see if “old hearing aid Mom” could hear them. So, the stones fell where they landed and I felt much better.

Then about a week later, after persistent and frequent mumbling training sessions, and using discriminatory reinforcement along with a hand gesture—my right hand pressed to my forehead with an “What was that? Are you mumbling?” Sure enough, our dog, Ruby, mumbled, right on cue!

Yes, now we’re mumbling!

Now, it seems like I had this all planned out– but no, it started out as just a way to play around with mumbling. But it worked out better than I could have expected.

Just as the kids and I were sitting around one night, and again, I couldn’t understand a single a word they said, I raised my hand, and pressed it to my forehead and said, “What? I can’t understand you?” Our little dog, mumbled, “whmmubledgmmrrrn”. The kids were amazed. I said, “Now that she mumbles, she’ll fit right in.”

They suddenly sat right up, and went “What? What did she just do?!” and looked at her amazed. Now it would seem I had their attention, but it was little Ruby who had their attention.

The funny thing is that for weeks they couldn’t get over it. They still can’t. Ruby wags her tail back and forth so hard each time she tries to mumble, it’s just fun for her to try and do it. She even clears her throat and sneezes before she concentrates on a good mumble. And, she learned different ways of mumbling. Like try and put a rollover in the middle of a mumble, that’s cool! She is so much more expressive and often wonders if a mumble will actually get the kids to get the ball for her. It does work sometimes, which is enough to set a dog up for a life of mumbling.

And, when it’s just the two of us, we can mumble together. I understand exactly what she is saying, just like she understands me.

She still knows her bark though whenever a newcomer passes by the house, there is no doubt about it, she has her limits all right.

In order to get Ruby to mumble you have to clearly enunciate, and the kids, amazingly enough, understand again how to pronounce English. I can understand them now, and I don’t need a hearing aid either. Maybe now that they see how a dog can mumble, it is more possible for a them to enunciate. Funny how these things work out!