Monday, 5 December 2011

Mamihlapinatapei, and other fascinating words

I have been thinking about the language of computers and whether it would be good for X  to learn one. I have also been working hard to untangle the language of researchers at the global company TNS. These very clever people seem to have a remarkable ability to tie up single sentences in more knots than you would find in a macrame pot holder. Meanwhile X has been playing hard with language. She and her best friend (I love her, mummy) have started to speak a language all of their own. X has now started to speak it to me. I was so flattered to be included that I started speaking back to her in jibberish. Now we walk down the road jabbering nonsense to each other. I say nonsense but mainly we intuit what each other is saying.  We laugh a lot in this language and don't use it for snapping and whining.  If ever I was lost for words with her it might come in handy. 

It occurred to me that one of the reasons that X might be so interested in speaking a foreign language is that almost all her friends are bilingual and have a 'special' language which they use with their mothers. T speaks Finnish to hers (no father around) , S speaks Icelandic (father doesn't speak Icelandic), N is only just learning English over Russian (no father around), and her best friend A ( I love her, mummy) speaks Danish to her mummy. I could go on- there are so many examples. It seems such a shame that X's fascination with language at this key moment in her development (this is the time where children naturally learn language) is going to waste as I only can jabber with her in make-believe meanings. Maybe we should learn a new language together. I do try to speak a bit of French but my French is woeful.

I did learn one new foreign word today: mamihlapinatapei, which is apparently Yagan for "the wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start."  
Good, eh? We haven't made up that one yet, but then I'm not sure we've ever seen two people looking at each other in this way. Maybe they were and we mistook it for British reserve. 

Friday, 2 December 2011


I arrived at work depressed having read a newspaper on the bus. X's future just seems so grey when you look at the economic future and the lack of opportunities for children as they grow. Then I arrived at work and got really excited- suddenly the future seemed full of possibilities again. 

The other day someone at work had sent around a petition (the intranet email stream at Digit is one of the best things about working here- it is so inspirational ) to get children coding in school. I signed the petition (  coding in schools petition- sign it too! ) and thought what a good idea. But last night a brilliant creative technologist, David Rosser, and designer Christine Winkless had taken the campaign further. They developed a poster to help the campaign. See their poster and read about their idea to teach children coding in schools  on the Digit blog:

It really inspired me, especially when David said:" if I was taught coding at school I would be so much better now- I didn't even start till I was 17!"

I know what he meant- all my career I wished I had understood earlier how art and writing was used commercially.  My teachers thought that everyone at our school would be teachers, doctors or work in government, they had no idea about anything creative at all. Had i known it might have changed my attitude to life and work.

I believe that discovering that you can make a perfect colourful circle or flower out of a few things you type in is something even X, aged 4, could get into- she loves using my computer. Hell, maybe I could even get into it too!  

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Making Meanings 

The process of adoption and the process of online dating are similar for the prospective parent in some ways.  I know because I have done both. The thing that really struck me is that both required -for me- a large amount of faith over experience.

There may be people who go onto online dating sites without feeling that love has let them down in some way, but most are striped through with desperation and disappointment like a humbug. Similarly, though there may be people who feel that it is better to adopt than have their own children, for the vast majority it is desperation at being childless that gets them into a situation where they have to fill out forms saying what they can or can't cope with by way of challenges. 

As a prospective adopter I had to overcome a shell of cynicism lacquered layer by layer over years of hopes that had fried to a cinder so that now it was almost as indestructible as the shell on a beetle that could survive a nuclear explosion. But once I started to examine possibilities of matches I was amazed at myself, the way that I started to make meanings just on a photo about why a child might be 'meant to be' for me. One baby looked a bit like the illustration on a book I'd liked as a child. I laughed at myself for dreaming up such spurious  meanings but I also couldn't help myself.

When I met my daughter it was special for being so beautifully, pure of such made up meanings. It was purely her looking at me and then turning away to look at the cat- which was far more interesting. I was glad that somehow I had managed to avoid cloying up the meeting with manufactured meanings and preconceptions, though I have no idea how this happened. I think it was because the situation leading up to me meeting her was so fraught with legal and other issues that I really didn't think it was going to happen. I was in such a spasm of cynicsm that I really didn't think I would run off with her, even though I had been allowed to meet her. My mind was frozen with amazement. The meaning I have made on this, in retrospect, is that I am glad it felt so pure of artificial meanings.

I was thinking about the need for humans to make meanings because X is still making up meanings regarding daddies and the lack of them and I don't know whether to say more might confuse further or not. Meanings are slippery little fish. The meanings she is making about daddies aren't so wide of the mark as they were. She doesn't think her daddy has been stolen by the police any more. Now she thinks he is in Africa - this is something to do with her hair and something I said about it.  But she doesn't seem too bothered. We had a three year old to stay for a sleepover last weekend, It was fun, she slept in our bed with us. We all spent a large amount of the night tripping to the loo but they both managed not to wet the bed, which was a first for X. In the morning, over breakfast, X asked her friend if she had a daddy. The little friend said she didn't. X said she didn't either. They both seemed pleased with this state of affairs. "I've got a just got a mummy too," said X. "You either have a mummy or a daddy but you don't need both." Our visitor agreed, nodding her head and adding: "my friend at nursery hasn't got a mummy or a daddy - but it doesn't matter because he's got a scooter."