It always amazes me how something so apparently inconsequential can make such a big impact on meaning. In these two phrases, it is the simple change of one little vowel that makes all the difference:
One of those days … as in, where nothing seems to go right …
One of these days … followed by a wistful wish for something
Language is beautifully, artistically, creatively giving. Yet it is simultaneously unforgiving in its demand for vigilance. A misplaced pause or a simple mispronunciation can alter the intent behind the words. Depending on your audience, the repercussions have the potential to be significant.
Now imagine you are a young child.
Your vocabulary and sentence construction are a work in progress. Your efforts at verbal communication are often further frustrated by a limited comprehension of the world around you.
You know what you need and want to say – but lack the tools and skills to vocalise it. What do you need in this moment?
- A patient listener
- Someone who is prepared to share a guess at what you’re trying to say
- A person who will not mock you, but who will see your frustration and work with you
- Suggestions to help you find the right words
- And time …
When my children were learning to speak, I tried hard to meet all of these needs.
I still do, and always will.
Because no one – child or adult – can find the right words all of the time.
With this, I can truly empathise.
Part of my job as a writer is to play with words. I love this element of my work. Rolling them around in my head and seeing which way up they land. This is something that comes naturally to me in my native English. But is an eternal struggle for me in French, the language of my adopted country.
Every communication I make in French requires significant brainwork. And more often than not I know I’ve stuffed up big time on some element of grammar, or use of vocabulary.
Frequently when I was first learning French my attempts at communications were met with incomprehension or frustration. And it wasn’t pretty.
It was demoralising.
It made me want to cry.
It felt like my voice was irrelevant.
My self-esteem took a hit.
And every time we fail to hear our children we condemn them to the same.
To stay sane I would tell myself that ‘One of these days I’ll be able to speak well enough to make myself truly heard’.
After 10 years I have one of these days more often than one of those. But those days do still happen. They are a useful reminder of how vulnerable it can feel when you are struggling to make yourself understood.
So whenever I see that my children are having one of those days, I drop what I’m doing, and I pay as much attention as they need. For as long as they need it.
And I remind them (and myself) that one day, one of those days will become one of these.