I can’t get My Girl to stop talking. Or is it that she can’t get me to start listening?
What’s the old adage? We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
Four Ears for More Listening
This is an adage My Girl knows very well. Not because she follows it but because I say it to her often. Very often.
In fact, I encourage her to wear her headbands with animal ears (kitty ears, Mickey Mouse ears, wolf ears, unicorn ears and horns – we have an unlimited supply of these headbands) to school so that she’ll have four ears and one mouth. If she listens four times as much as she talks, she should have a fighting chance of not going to the principal’s office.
But only just.
I’ve said it many times. Actually, many, many times. My Girl is a terrible listener. Really atrocious. She doesn’t mean anything malicious by it. She’s not trying to be disrespectful. But nevertheless, it’s our biggest struggle.
Couple that with her ability to outtalk the best Senate filibuster… Well, we have a real problem on our hands.
My Girl has a slightly obsessive mind. I’d like to blame The Husband, who, I’ve said on more than one occasion, should be medicated for his OCD leanings. I’d like to blame him, but his tendency to wash a dinner plate while I’m simultaneously eating off of it may not be the cause of My Girl to find one subject so fascinating that she talks, in torturous detail, for days on end, about it.
I’m probably much more to blame. After all, I’m the one who has referenced Hamilton in four of my last five blogs; I’m the one who has completely memorized 80 percent of the songs; and I’m the one currently reading my fourth nonfiction novel about Alexander Hamilton and/or the Marquis de Lafayette.
So yeah, maybe some of her obsessive qualities have a maternal blame.
Nonstop HIV Talker (yes, you read that right)
Take for example her obsession about AIDS. To be fair, maybe she’s more obsessed about HIV, but one thing leads to another.
When My Girl was six, we took her to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. I would like to say this is the first time she saw a possibly inappropriate exhibit for her age. But I’d be lying. On this particular visit, My Girl was introduced to the story of Ryan White.
In all seriousness, Ryan White is an amazing hero to introduce your child to. Just maybe not your 6YO. If you don’t know the story, he contracted HIV as a child from a blood transfusion. At the time, not much was known about the disease and as fear breeds prejudice, he was banned from going to school. That, of course, was after his life was made a living hell by the school staff, parents and students.
But Ryan stood up for his rights and the rights of all infected by HIV. Sadly, he passed away in 1990.
Fast forward 30ish years, and find My Girl exploring this exhibit and learning all she can about Ryan White.
Fast forward another two weeks, and find this momma at her wits’ end because her 6YO won’t stop talking about HIV.
I’d like to say her nonstop talking about HIV was a welcome relief from her previous nonstop talking about The Plague (thank you, live-action Beauty and the Beast where Belle’s mom dies from such illness), but she was six at the time and asking me about how people get HIV. So no, it was not a relief. Surprisingly though, My Girl doesn’t have much interest in COVID-19. Small miracles, I suppose.
I’m so proud of her curious mind. Truly. But if she asks me again if that lady in the Kroger’s checkout line has HIV because she coughed one more time, I’m going to asphyxiate myself with one of those plastic grocery bags.
I also think My Girl has too many things running through that mind of hers – not just Hamilton quotes and facts about HIV, but anything and everything. She has a monkey mind. It swings from vine to vine, picking up and dropping thoughts, only stopping long enough to itch or spit.
That’s why half the time, when My Girl is trying to tell something to The Husband or me, we have no bloody idea what she’s trying to say.
We’ve let her speak words – I can’t say it is more than that – on more than one occasion, where she has talked for five minutes straight, and The Husband and I look at each other with complete bewilderment. “Do you have any idea what she just said?”
Nope. She just talked for the entire length of American Pie (“A long long time ago, I can still remember…”) without completing a single sentence.
My Girl: “Momma?”
My Girl: “I don’t remember… Actually, I didn’t have anything to say. I just wanted to talk.”
At least she’s honest.
Nonstop Talker Consequences
Of course, all this nonstop talking is detrimental to her development – and not just because I may try to reach into her mouth one day and cut off her tongue. Hey, it worked well for Ilyn Payne. (Game of Thrones, Mom)
The Quiet Game
Obviously, My Girl loses anytime we try to play the quiet game or jinx. Jane discovered jinx and thinks it’s hilarious to make My Girl wait to talk until she says her name three times. Of course, I’ve tried playing the quiet game with her. Make listening a game, they say. Her competitive spirit will take over, they say. It will be fun, they say.
Bullshit, I say.
My Girl straight up refuses. She once said: “I can’t stop talking in real life. Why would I want to in a game?”
Again, she’s honest and she has self-awareness.
Besides her defeat at jinx and the quiet game, I’m convinced My Girl could be a piano prodigy if she could play more than four measures of music without stopping to talk. But she must pause multiple times during Minuet in G to tell me what her fingers are thinking, or a million other vines of thinking that her monkey mind has picked up.
Ok, maybe piano prodigy is a strong sentiment. But who knows? Maybe the talents of Lang Lang are hidden beneath her raging voice box.
Even when I think she’s finally listening – in those rare occasions when she looks solemnly at me with those big brown eyes – even then, she’s just fooling me. She’s a pounce listener. On those occasions when she doesn’t interrupt, she waits until the moment I stop speaking and pounces on whatever was in her mind.
99.78 percent of the time, it has nothing to do with what I was saying. In fact, she is unable to even repeat the words that flowed from my mouth just milliseconds ago.
So you can imagine my disbelief when she begged me to sit in her room and read the other night (current reading list is The First Conspiracy about a plot to assassinate George Washington). She begged. She promised. She swore to heaven and high water that she wouldn’t utter a word. She just wanted to be blessed with the presence of my company while I enjoyed my book.
Me: “Ok. I’ll sit in here and read if you actually let me read.”
My Girl: “Of course.” (I could hear the stressed italics of her voice.)
10 seconds later.
My Girl (to herself): “You promised Momma you wouldn’t bother her. So don’t say it now. Just hope you remember what you were going to say when she’s done reading.”
Me: “It’s fine. What did you want to say?”
My Girl: “No, no. I promised not to bother you.”
Me: “Really. It’s fine.”
My Girl: “I forgot.”
I went back to reading.
My Girl: “I remember… if you hear me talking, I’m just talking to myself and you don’t need to worry about it.”
I was, obviously, done reading for the night.
But why? Why is she like Alexander Hamilton and noooon stop when it comes to talking?
I could blame her creative mind, her only child-ness, her need for attention, her curiosity, her intelligent mind.
I think all of those things.
But maybe it’s because – or partly because – I don’t listen enough. And if I’m going down that spiral staircase to hell, maybe she doesn’t listen to me because she sees me not listening to her.
Whoa. That’s a lot of baggage to unpack right now. I’m going to firmly close that box and save it for later because it has the potential to unhinge my world.
This isn’t the first time it’s crossed my mind that My Girl’s talking/listening problems stem from my inattention. I did a whole weekend experiment, which I called my All In Weekend (you can read about it here). But it takes more than one weekend to fix the largest behavioral problem I have with my 9YO.
I found this great article about coping mechanisms with a non stop talker. And this quote really stuck out at me:
“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them, all of it has been big stuff.”
I’m a pretty tough judge on myself, but I won’t say I don’t listen at all. I’m not a monster. But I am a working mom. And I am a multi-tasker. And I am impatient.
So all those things add up to me not taking the 20 minutes to listen to My Girl retell the picture book she read during library in excruciating detail.
Maybe that’s the problem. Or part of the problem.
I’m all about self improvement. I’m also all about accountability. So because my ears are going to start bleeding soon if I don’t get My Girl’s verbosity under control, I’m writing down the things I’m going to work on. And let’s see how it goes.
- Make eye contact and focus. While I do make time to talk with My Girl (morning snuggle time, while in the car, dinner, etc.), I lack when it comes to making eye contact with her and focusing on what she’s telling me. Let’s go for quality, not quantity.
- Use better phrases when I’ve reached my listening limit (which I’m working on extending). Instead of she’s “driving me crazy”, I’m going to use “I need a minute,” or “No talking for a minute or two”. Since we know that setting a timer isn’t the best solution in our household (see how it did not improve our mornings here), maybe I can say something like “No talking while this song is playing.” That might work because there is always music playing in our household.
- Let her go. Sometimes she just needs to hear her own voice. Sometimes? Who am I kidding? All of the time. But sometimes, I can just let her go. “You are free to talk, but I just can’t respond right now.”