June 29, 2008
The three of us were sitting on the bed in our pjs, and Schuyler had her Big Box of Words with her so she could tell us about the beach in Connecticut. This naturally led to the topic of mermaids, as most conversations with Schuyler eventually do. When, in the midst of our discussion, we informed her that a boy mermaid was actually a merman, she asked me to add it to her device. Julie left us to our programming fun.
While we were adding words and making changes to the device, Schuyler and I ended up somehow on the voice settings, where the BBoW user can select the voice that she wants to represent her. There are maybe a dozen different voices, male and female, but there's only one (named "Kit") that sounds specifically like a child's voice.
Kit has been Schuyler's voice all along, and in a weird sort of way, it has become her recognizable voice to me. When we were being interviewed for public radio a few months ago, Schuyler thought it would be funny to reset the voice settings so that instead of little kid Kit's voice, the box suddenly sounded like some kind of menacing robot invader from Mars. She thought it was great fun, of course, and I found the experience surprisingly upsetting. Kit had become Schuyler's voice to me, and in some respects at least a part of who she really is on a fundamental level.
This morning, as I showed her the different voices and how they could be tweaked by changing the rate of speed, the pitch and the variance of pitch (ranging from robotic to Shatneresque), Schuyler grew very interested. She pointed to the device, and then to herself. Since we were in the settings mode, she had to speak with her hands.
She held her hands far apart ("big"), drew her thumb across her cheek ("girl") and then pointed to her throat ("voice").
Schuyler wanted a big girl voice.
We've been trying to push her to use the device this summer and have met with success, at least much of the time. We've always encouraged her her to take ownership of the BoW, adding words and changing pronunciations at her request. Now she was asking for a major change, and one that was very, very personal, both for her as a user and for the rest of us who interact with her every day.
We sat and spent a good half hour going through the different choices, and she finally chose "Ursula", which we then tweaked to bring the pitch up to a slightly more girlish sound and to add a bit of lilt to its patterns. What she ended up with was a voice completely customized to her wishes.
Broken children grow up like everyone else, although perhaps in ways and via paths we never anticipate. Schuyler has a big girl voice now. I only wish the rest of her big girl transformations were going to be that easy.