Amid the noise, don't ignore the voices that matter

By Moira Billinge

Anna – not her real name – was just ten years old when she asked: ‘Daddy, what’s a virgin?’ This unexpected question, from a child who still believed in fairies and Father Christmas, obviously needed to be handled very carefully indeed.

In the midst of negotiating heavy rush-hour traffic, her father took a deep breath and asked: ‘Anna, where
have you heard that word used?’

‘Well, Our Lady is called the Virgin Mary, it’s in some Christmas carols and I heard it in our Nativity play,’ she replied. Playing for extra thinking time to decide how best he could respond, he answered: ‘Correct, and we also talk of Our Lady as being the Blessed Virgin Mary, don’t we!’

‘Yes,’ Anna agreed and added, ‘We have some virgins at my school – some of my friends and I were talking about them!’ Thankfully, before the conversation became even more complicated, she asked another question: ‘Daddy, what does a virgin eat?’ He breathed a huge sigh of relief on hearing this as it dawned on him that she and her friends had actually been talking about vegans!

On another occasion, as Anna climbed into the car along with another passenger, she asked if there was
enough room for everyone’s guardian angel to fit inside the vehicle. Reassured that there would not be a
problem, she then asked if everyone had a guardian angel. When told that they do, Anna had another query: ‘Did Jesus have a guardian angel?’ After all, she reasoned, ‘as he was “God made man”, he must have had one, just like everyone else.’

A few months later, Anna was still believing in fairies – and her ability to ask amazing questions was
undiminished. ‘You know how we shorten names, like Becky is short for Rebecca, Cathy is short for Catherine, and Pat is short for Patricia – well, what is GOD short for?’ She was appalled to discover that God’s name wasn’t shortened from anything. ‘That really doesn’t make any sense at all. How can someone so great just be called God?’ she asked, shaking her head.

Children say the most incredible and original things, especially when they have a captive audience. It only goes to show how important it is to give them the full attention that they deserve and need. How intensely
frustrating it must be for children who, eager to chat about a million different things at once, find that they are ignored while their parent or carer chooses instead to incessantly converse and interact with their mobile phone. How many wonderful ideas, comments and important questions remain unheard or unasked, because they are unaired through lack of opportunity?

I recently heard a little boy unsuccessfully trying to attract his mother’s attention. She wasn’t responding because the person to whom she was talking on the phone was clearly more important than his
conversation. He made numerous attempts to talk to her, his efforts falling on otherwise occupied ears.
The child then used a tactic that he must have believed would trigger the desired response: ‘Mummy, I love you,’ he shouted. After a few more attempts he stood in front of her trolley and wailed, ‘Mummy! I’m trying to talk to you but you’re not listening to me!’ Reluctantly, she came off the phone. How the little boy retained the incentive – or energy - to continue trying to talk to her in the absence of any co-operation was remarkable.

May our wonderful Mother Mary watch over that child, and others like him, who live in such a
communication-distracted world and whose potential to come up with such brilliant observations are
thwarted by a technology overload.