My Gen X heart really wanted to give this post a pithy pop culture title, but none of them really fit. We can’t all be self-aware and clever.
My kids cannot imagine this, but there was a point in my life at which it was not at all uncommon for me to pass entire days, maybe even weeks, without speaking a single word aloud.
I lived alone. I worked alone. If I encountered a coworker (which happened pretty infrequently considering the size of the office), we’d perhaps smile and nod. Any conversations I had were via email and instant messenger. My voice grew so disused that I’d creak if I tried to increase my volume above a murmur.
With my kids, I creak for a different reason: I have become a wall of words. I monologue some days from the time they open their eyes until they finally lay still long enough to sleep. For the hours in between, I am asking and answering questions, giving orders and parrying rebuffs, offering 20 solutions to boredom, yelling at them not to kill each other before dinner and to please for the love of Pete stop jumping on the recliner because it can and will tip over and we’ll all be sorry.
On one level, I’m unapologetic for the word wall. There is much I want to share with them. Much I want them to know. And I like to loop them in on things that they might not otherwise think to ask, so they know what to expect. I frequently see adults forging ahead with their own lives and just assuming that the kids will trail along like a string of ducklings. Which almost never happens unless the ducklings live in mortal terror of the head duck, and I am not that kind of mom.
Just as I’m growing tired of my own voice and wondering if those magic mom hacks I keep reading about actually work for anyone (“Don’t say ‘Put your shoes on, please, because it’s time for us to leave’ — say ‘Shoes’ and watch the magic happen,” they say –except my kids see that as an invitation to argue for 20 minutes about the purpose of shoes and why they have to wear them), my daughter will ask a question that has a long, complicated answer and once more I become my Shakespeare professor, who went off on tangents so frequently that the class syllabus included a recipe for spiced tea. I’m not sure he was even aware of his digressions. I am aware, often painfully so (yes, I do see how very paragraphlike that last sentence turned out to be), but some days I just cannot shut up. It’s like all the words I didn’t say for all those years are pouring out of me so fast that all I can do is grab a paddle and try to keep up.
I’m working on it, though.
The other day, my daughter looked distinctly uncomfortable while I was talking. Shifting, eyes darting, wincing a little. I wasn’t talking about anything untoward — no puberty, kissing, bodily functions, or the lack of visible floor in her room — and I was responding to a question she’d asked, so her reaction puzzled me. I paused and asked her if I’d somehow upset her.
“No,” she said, “I just really have to pee. But I want to hear what you’re saying! Come with me to the potty — I want to keep talking.”
I assured her that my words could wait through a two-minute bathroom break. And felt somewhat validated in my ramblings; this marked the second time in as many days that she’d asked me to talk more. We are approaching the teen years here, and I’ve been doing my best to earn her trust so that she will come to me when she needs to. I now have a small shred of hope that she will, in fact, feel that she can.