Sunday, July 25, 2010

Let's Talk

We have a unique phenomenon that occurs in our house on a regular basis. I like to call it the revolving conversation. It goes something like this - Child #1 makes a comment about something. I reply and we start a small discussion about said subject. Then Child #2 walks in, or overhears, and jumps in and wants to know what we’re talking about. So we summarize the original discussion and begin again. Midway through this exchange, it never fails, Child #3 enters the scene, and wants to be a part of the dialogue. So we proceed to repeat the above steps all over again.

It’s enough to drive me insane some days.

Last Sunday, it began when my 14 year old made a short comment to me as we sat in a row, waiting patiently for church to start. I answered back with a short reply, that was overheard by my 17 year old son, who just had to know what I was talking about. As I went to explain the reply, which actually took longer than the original comment, my nine year old son’s ears perked up.

“What? What are we talking about?” he inquired.

“Oh, Sam,” I said with a sigh, “Trust me, you don’t want to be a part of this conversation.”

“Why?,” he asked, “Does this conversation end with him (pointing to big brother) punching me?”

I had to laugh. Unfortunately, many of Sam’s conversations with his big brothers end with him getting (playfully) punched. He knew enough to butt out in the interest of self preservation.

But the exchange made me think about this dance we do with our children, the way we drive ourselves crazy in an effort to communicate with them.

When they're new human beings, just learning about the world, and crawling is their most impressive skill to date, we jabber away at them, waiting to hear their first meaningful words. The first time we hear their voice, even in a string of babbles, we rejoice. Somehow being vocal, beyond fusses and screams, makes them seem like real little people. Hearing the tone of their voice instantly gives them a personality.

Then quickly they move from meaningful words, some very welcome (“mama!”) and some not so welcome (“mine!”), to phrases, then to sentences. And just like we coaxed them to walk and then wondered, while we chased after them, why we were so anxious to see them mobile, once the words become unleashed, there are many days we wonder how we can lock them back in the box again. The questions, the comments, the pleas and the demands, can wear down even the most dedicated parent.

I always thought that dealing with fevers and throw up would be the hardest part of parenting. Once I was in the trenches I got a reality check. Helping a child through a temporary illness is hard. Fevers spike at home, then fade as you approach the doctor’s office. Huge coughs can come out of small people so strongly that you’d swear they swallowed their dinner fork. But I never struggled with the sickness thing nearly as much as I did the chatter thing.

Little children have a lot to say.

Figuring out this big, wonderful world is very exciting. It’s nearly impossible for a three year old to step over a squashed worm on the grocery store parking lot without wanting to share the experience with the closest human, usually a parent. “Wook at DAT! Can you beweeve it? I wonder how dat worm got smushed! What da YOU fink, mom? Huh? Why would someone squash dat worm?”

And just when you’ve answered that one, the next one comes along, like a carton of bottle rockets in the hands of a teenager. “Can we PWEESE get de big cart, mama? Da one wit da CAR? PWEESE?” Then comes the running narration, about every person and every item that passes in front of their eyes. And it might be more bearable if it were just a narration. But preschoolers are all about audience participation, and mama or daddy make the very best audience.

But just when you feel like you’re trapped in toddler monologue hell, your little life partner is off to preschool, then to kindergarten. Teachers and friends get to be the players in their running life commentary. You find yourself grabbing onto the adorable things they say, now that their frequency is not a constant drone in the back of your head.

And then suddenly the well dries up. Big kid school begins and conversation is a prize you seek, not a punishment you seek to avoid.

Maybe it’s because I have a very independent daughter and three very typical boys, but in our household we quickly went from a constant stream of sharing to three syllable conversations. Meaning I would ask questions and they would answer in three syllables or less. I found myself reading books on communicating with your child, which surprised me, since just a few years earlier I couldn’t seem to get a minute’s peace.

And now with teens, it’s a whole new game. But so much the same game too.

When my kids were little babies and something was wrong in their world, I wished that I could have a dialogue with them, and they could tell me, in their six month old voices, “I’m not feeling well today, mama. Could you please help me?” I find myself clutching a very similar wish, now that my kids are big.

Teens don’t always know what’s bugging them, but they sure can make life miserable for the rest of the household as we try to figure it out. Once again I wish for the ability to have a logical conversation so we can rectify their ailment.

I guess it’s all a part of the crazy world of communication. All you can ask for is a little regular interaction, enough to keep us connected.

And if no little brothers get punched in the process, it can surely be called a success.


Carrie Link said...

"It’s enough to drive me insane some days."

How well I know!

Cathy said...

Oh my gosh! I have a teen. He will not stop talking. The worst - he asks me a question, I reply with an answer and then he proceeds to argue with me about how my answer is incorrect. "Well, if ya knew the answer already, why'd ya ask?!"

But, he still has not told me that he has a girlfriend. Not even mentioned. I got that little tidbit from his younger brother! Go figure.

just one foot said...

We have that happening at our house too, Cathy. My fourteen year old suddenly lost his sweetness and has turned into a 'terrible two'. He knows it all and will argue down a point to the death, even if he asked your opinion in the beginning. I once heard someone say that teens are hard to deal with so you're ready for them to fly the nest when it's time. I see some truth in that...