The Search for Effective Family Communication

Submitted into Contest #111 in response to: Write about a child who carries on their parent’s work or legacy in some form.... view prompt

8 comments

Crime Drama Fiction

My name is Jack and I can honestly say that my life with my wife Karen in our small town in Michigan has been quite ordinary, at least until recently. My day job is selling agricultural equipment. I am also a part-time, volunteer fireman in town. My fire fighter duties are probably relevant to the story that I am about to tell you but more on this as I continue. We are the parents of twin boys, Brad and Chad. Like many twins and from the very beginning, their twinness set them apart from other kids and led to a series of misunderstandings. Here’s my, and their, story.

Even lying in their crib before they could sit up, Chad and Brad had eyes only for each other. One of them would grunt, squeal, or gesture and the other would immediately respond with a broad grin and a similar response. Who would have thought that they might be considered desperados in some circles, even before they even turned four? Perhaps this it too strong a term for their actions but I’ll let you be the judge of this.

Their close relationship continued and even increased after they began to speak in sentences at about two years. They immediately started to converse with each other non-stop in what is called twin language. It turns out that about half of twins develop a unique way of talking to each other, using words that are not in the dictionary and cannot be understood by anyone else inside or outside the family. 

Only the twins themselves can understand the special language that they create from scratch. In addition to their daily conversations with each other, twins also develop identical physical gestures and even a special style of walking called twin-walk. Just watching Chad and Brad talk to each every day and gesturing wildly was a constant source of entertainment for Karen and visitors to our home. Friends would come just to watch them interact with each other. Our home became entertainment central — truly the twin show.

Twin language is called cryptophasia by speech researchers and pediatricians. My wife and I learned about this when the boys started speaking in code. Soon afterwards, we started calling the boys Crypto and Fassi and the names stuck and their birth names of Chad and Brad were quickly forgotten. Looking backwards, this may not have been such a great idea. But all parents make mistakes, don’t they?

The boys were totally engaged with each other all day and every day as they grew up. They even had a kind of clubhouse where they hatched their various plans and plots, a closet just off the living room. After entering the small space, they would shut the door and we could hear them giggling inside at all hours of the day. They would later leave the closet with mischief painted all over their faces and we would then need to wait to see what they had plotted. Their unique way of speaking to each other did not help us as as they grew up.

****

I should mention at this point that Crypto and Fassi had one other interest that was unusual for children of their age — fire fighting. I mentioned earlier that I was a volunteer fireman and that the boys had probably taken on an interest in fires from me. When I came home after a fire, the two were drawn to me like a magnets to iron. My clothes were often filled with smoke that they smelled as their pressed their noses to them. 

Some of my fire gear was also stored near the back door of the house. I had a pair of big rubber boots there that they would constantly play with them. Both then insisted that I buy them small plastic boots which they wore in the house most of the day, stomping around and looking for trouble.

Perhaps I may have gone too far with this fire “thing” with the boys. I bought two lengths of PVC tubing at the local hardware store that I gave to the boys which then served as pretend fire hoses for them during their play. Most days, they walked around the house with these tubes wound around their necks. 

From time to time, they would shout to each other: JURGENCI, JURGENCI. They would then unwind their pretend hoses and point them at an imaginary fire. They always took care to attach one end of the tubing to an imaginary water hydrant at the pretend curb. In their minds, they were serious fire fighters on duty constantly too help the public.

In the evenings after their hard day’s work of putting out imaginary fires, the three of us and my wife would light a real fire in a fire pit that I had bought and set up in the back yard. We would roast marshmallows after sunset as a reward for all of their community “service” in their pretend volunteer fire department. They loved getting close to the fire in the pit and you could see the flames reflected in their bright eyes. Fire was both an enemy and, to some extent, a close friend for them.

***

One day, I brought home two toy horses as gifts for the boys. Each of them were pretty large — about one foot high. Apparently, these horses were manufactured in Sweden. I can’t really remember all of the details but they were labeled Bjorn by the manufacturer on the toy tag. At any rate, as Crypto and Fassi carried them around the house, they would shout BORN HOSSA constantly which we took to mean Bjorn horse. While they were shouting this non-stop, they would stamp their feet and move around in a circle, carrying their toy horses and holding each other’s hand tightly.

***

I mentioned before that Crypto and Fassi has used a closet in the house as their club house. They began to refer to it as their sta-shunt and carried pillows inside so that they could enjoy some leisure time between fighting their imaginary fires. Both Karen and I were amused because they also carried into their sta-shunt newspapers and magazines from around the house and placed them in piles inside. Both of them, chattering away in their twin language, would recline on the pillows and pretend to read the newspapers until they were called to a fire in their imaginary town.

***

It was about mid-December on a Thursday night. At about 2:00 a.m. I awoke suddenly and immediately smelled smoke in the house. Part of my quick reaction, I am sure, was due to my training as a fireman, a second sense that I had developed. I immediately woke my wife and shouted to her to get out of the house ASAP. I then personally attended to the boys. Strangely, when I entered their room, both were awake and siting straight up in their beds. Even more strangely, each of them had their fire hoses, their PVC tubing, coiled around their necks.

I grabbed them in my arms and quickly headed down the stairs toward the back door. There was then a raging fire in the living room so leaving through this door was the best choice. My wife went in a similar direction. I had the presence of mind to grab my cell phone when leaving with the boys and called the fire department to report the fire.

By the time we got outside and were maybe a hundred feet from the house, we could see the flames engulfing the entire first floor. Smoke was pouring out of the house and the rooms on the upper floors were also being swamped with smoke. Crypto and Fassi were still in my arms. They could not take their eyes, wide as saucers, off the burning house. They were strangely quiet, however, which I attributed to the shock and to the early hour.

I could hear the clang of the fire engines approaching the house in a few minutes. Both boys immediately jumped down to the ground from my arms at a safe distance from the fire and pointed their pretend fire hoses at the burning house. Remarkably, both remembered to attach their PVC hoses to a pretend water hydrant in the back yard. They were back in action.

Then, as the firemen arrived and were beginning to spray our house with water, both of them began to scream in unison, pointing excitedly toward it: born hossa, born hossa, born hossa. The initial reaction of Karen and I was that they were concerned that they had left their toy horses in the burning house but we quickly understood that this was not the case. They were beaming at each other, shaking hands, and hugging each other in a congratulatory way. They were two very happy boys.

***

Within about thirty minutes, our house was consumed by the fire. All that remained were smoking embers. The fire company chief approached me and tried to console me for the loss. “We think that it started on the first floor, perhaps in a pile of newspapers or such. Not sure what ignited them. Perhaps a short in an electrical outlet.” Of course and by this time, Karen and I already knew how the fire had started but had no intention of sharing our conclusion with the fire chief.

***

As the years went by after our fire, the boys, now called Chad and Brad by everyone, lost their infatuation with fires and began to talk and think like everyone else. Our communication within the family improved considerably from that time on. The toy horses, of course, were consumed by the fire and never discussed afterwards. I also retired as a volunteer fireman, pushing all thoughts about fires to the back of my mind. All of these events were a good lesson in the need for effective family communication but I don’t know exactly what we could have done differently when raising Chad and Brad. You may have suggestions for us.

September 17, 2021 21:30

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8 comments

Mustang Patty
14:39 Sep 21, 2021

Hi, Bruce, I have to agree with Katharine. There is much more telling rather than showing. The story, itself, is intriguing and a great tale. I think with more time and work, you can create a great short story here, (it never seems fair to try to create a great story in one weeks' time.) KEEP WRITING - it is the only way to build your writing muscles, ~MP~

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Bruce Friedman
18:15 Sep 21, 2021

Thanks so much Patty for your comment. I have taken it to heart. One of my dilemmas in this particular story as it evolved, is that the twins, two of the three main protagonists, did to speak legibly. The father was the only understandable narrator and I never fleshed out the role of the mother. I am going to make a concerted effort in future stories to emphasize more "lean" dialogue and in this way draw readers into the story.

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Mustang Patty
10:58 Sep 25, 2021

:>)

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20:43 Sep 19, 2021

Hi Bruce, I don't know if you are interested in crit, but here are a few thoughts I had while reading this story, I hope you find them useful. The story is interesting, with the details of the twins and the way they interacted. It's a good way to bring the father's occupation in to the story too. There is not a lot of description in the story and almost no dialogue. You could make the characters more engaging and believable by using both of these methods. The story is very much telling not showing, and while the word count for these st...

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Bruce Friedman
22:41 Sep 19, 2021

Katherine, thank you for taking all of this and effort time to develop such a detailed critique. I am most grateful and agree with yours points. I am a novice and your generosity re: feedback is much appreciated. Writing dialogue is new to me but the only way to become skilled is to practice. Again, thanks for your time.

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Bruce Friedman
22:46 Sep 19, 2021

Katherine, on your recommendation, I am starting the "show don't tell" course on Reedsy. Many thanks again.

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23:09 Sep 19, 2021

That's good, it's a really useful course, I did it myself a while back. No problem with the crit. We're all here to learn. I'm glad you find it useful ☺️

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Bruce Friedman
14:37 Sep 20, 2021

To call these Reedsy features "courses" is a little bit of a misnomer. They are short and succinct. Having said this, they are still very useful in succinctly providing writing tips that you can immediately put into practice.

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