Posted in Mommyhood

The Exorcism of the Somewhat-Friendly Ghost

Let me take a quick poll here. When your child fears their room is haunted, how do you respond?

A. You believe the child and immediately call the priest?

B. You show them the movie Casper to illustrate the benefits of having a supernatural friend?

C. You believe them, but convince them it was the dog and then secretly try to cleanse the house of the supernatural.

I’m really hoping there are a lot of C’s out there. That will make me feel better about what I have to say next.

Not a believer in Emily Rose

First, I’m a pretty level-headed person – not prone to exaggeration (unless it makes for a funny blog post, of course), not superstitious, never visited a fortune teller and certainly doesn’t own an Ouija board. Try to keep that in mind while I tell you the story of why I’m pretty sure My Girl’s room is (or rather, was) haunted by a somewhat-friendly ghost.

Three years ago, The Husband and I moved into our current (and forever) home. To say I was hesitant to make this move would be a bit of an understatement, but now that we live here, I will never leave. And it’s not just because I love the house, but also because I love the literal white picket-fenced backyard, front yard leading to the lake, and the best neighbors in the world (including, but not limited to Monica, Chandler and clan).

After a few weeks in the house, I started to notice some strange things – mainly things were not where I left them. The most noticeable in the beginning were things in the guest bedroom. I chocked it up to gravity.

That bag must have fallen off the closet shelf. But how did it end up in the middle of the room? That’s strange…

Child Ghost
I know My Girl is cool. But so cool that ghosts want to hang out with her?

Ok, maybe I’m a believer

Then came the day of My Girl’s school pictures. Like any okay mom, I bribed My Girl with a teeny tiny bit of make-up if she would move her slow butt while getting ready for the school day (read about our morning struggles here).

And like a truly okay wife, I left the house before My Girl was ready, leaving the make-up promise unfulfilled and The Husband to deal with it. (In my defense, My Girl did not move her slow butt fast enough to warrant the bribed reward.)

Fast forward to later that evening. My Girl had been picked up directly from school by my parents and was playing happily at their house; The Husband had been home for a few hours, relaxing; and I was just heading up the stairs to change clothes before dinner plans.

As I got to the staircase, I saw My Girl’s little bag of make-up and her plastic make-up kit sitting in the middle of the hallway. I called down to The Husband to see if there’s a reason why My Girl’s make-up was in the middle of the floor.

Sidebar: if you’ve read any of the posts where The Husband is even mentioned, you probably know his propensity to have everything organized just right. So I probably don’t need to explain why it is literally impossible that My Husband walked past My Girl’s make-up kit on the floor of the hallway without noticing it, picking it up, putting it away, and simultaneously throwing an internal tantrum about it. Seriously. The house could be burning with a fire of a thousand Chernobyls, raining embers down on his blonde head, and he would still be putting stray toys in their place on his way out the door.

“That wasn’t there earlier,” he said.

I believed him.

I nonchalantly shrugged it off, because, again, I’m not superstitious or prone to jump to the conclusion of ghosts in a situation like this, and also, because I know The Husband is basically terrified about the idea of the supernatural. He doesn’t like to even hear urban legends about haunted highways two hours away. Francesville Lights, anyone? No? Just this Midwestern girl?

Anyways. We didn’t speak of it, but The Husband and I knew the truth.

There was no way in hell My Girl got that make-up out without him noticing. Also, the box of make-up is the size of pencil box. I find it hard to believe that our 12-pound dog moved it AND the bag of make-up to the middle of the hallway where it had to be stepped around.

Did that stop me from insisting that the dog did it? Hell no.

The dog ate my homework and haunted my room

Not long after this strange event, we started having consistent problems. Sometimes it was after we had been gone for a day. Sometimes after only being out of the room for 15 minutes or so.

But we would come back into My Girl’s room or her toy room to discover toys in the middle of the floor. Most often it was Ziploc bags full of Lego sets. Sometimes it was boxes of crayons. This is a creative ghost. These are also the toys my little creative mind most often uses.

The bag or box containing the toys were shredded.

Shredded.

Like with claws — shredded.

I always blamed the dog. Poor, sweet Mr. Darcy. And maybe it was him. On sunny June afternoons, when away from the house and rethinking these events, I can almost convince myself that it was Mr. Darcy.

Except for these glaring facts.

  1. He has never in all the 14 years we have had him messed with our stuff, even My Girl’s stuff when lying out in the open or on the floor.
  2. He’s a mini Dachshund, weighing all of 12 pounds and standing about 1 foot high.
  3. The bags of Legos were all stored in plastic bins that stand over 1 foot high and were not disturbed from their resting place.

Ghost was not our first conclusion.

Ok. That was a lie. Ghost was 100 percent The Husband’s first conclusion. In the back of my mind, it was mine as well. But I was determined to take this route:

Deny. Deny. Deny.

I did this to stop from being terrified myself, but mainly I did this to keep The Husband from being terrified. Let’s be clear. It’s not because I’m this compassionate wife that hates the thought of her hubby worrying at night. I did it because I knew if we truly admitted we had a ghost problem, The Husband would have that house up on the market before you can say Love It or List It.

And while I didn’t particularly want to move to this house, I sure as hell didn’t want to move out of it. I only agreed to this move because The Husband promised it was our last move until retirement. For a little context, this house was the fourth house we had bought in our less than 10 years of marriage. It was also our seventh move.

So to him and to My Girl, I blamed the dog.

I’d do about anything to prevent having to rebox up the kitchen cabinets.

Privately, The Husband and I agreed that maybe it wasn’t poor Mr. Darcy’s fault. So I made him call an exterminator to exam the attic. There was a ninja raccoon living above My Girl’s rooms, sneaking in when it knew we were way, that oddly didn’t make a single sound ever, or make any odd odors, but liked crayons and Legos.

Yeah… The exterminator wasn’t convinced either. But he dutifully checked the attic, found nothing and recommended we start hanging crucifixes in the upstairs rooms.

Luckily, he didn’t bill us for that advice.

My Girl’s supernatural playmate

Then came the day I couldn’t deny it anymore.

My Girl came running down the stairs freaked out. When I asked what was wrong, she told me about her own paranormal experience.

She was playing with her My Little Pony figures when Rainbow Dash moved across the table by her own accord.

At least, that’s what My Girl said.

At any other time, in any other room, I would immediately, without a single doubt in my mind, chock this up to My Girl’s overactive imagination, or a breeze in the room, or the tremors of a 2.5 earthquake.

But with my knowledge of recent occurrences, my thought was: At least My Girl has someone to play with now.

Obviously, I didn’t say that to her. I just assured her that it was her overactive imagination. Or a breeze in the room. Or the tremors of a 2.5 earthquake.

At this point, though, I was convinced that there was a ghost in our upstairs, who really wanted to play with My Girl.

I couldn’t blame it. My Girl is pretty awesome. But I also had flashes of Regan MacNeil or those kiddos from Children of the Corn. Influences from another realm are not what My Girl needs. She has enough problems behaving on her own.

So Casper needed to go.

Ghost in our yard
A recent picture of our yard. Maybe the ghost didn’t leave the house, but just moved into My Girl’s tree house.

The Exorcism of the Somewhat-Friendly Ghost

I waited until a weekend I knew The Husband was going to be gone. I didn’t want to admit to him that we had a ghost living in My Girl’s toy room, and thus put the house back onto Zillow. So I continued to deny any such existence until he packed his overnight bag and drove to Ohio with his dad and brother.

But I couldn’t do this exorcism on my own – mainly because I couldn’t figure out how to get the screens out of the window frames, and I wanted to give the ghost easy exit points.

So I enlisted the help of my mom.

If you know my mom, you would realize how ridiculous that statement is. My mom won’t even watch any Marvel movies because they are too scary. That’s why I didn’t tell her what we were doing until after she took the screens off the windows.

I sent her downstairs with My Girl while I opened the Bible, turned on K-Love and spoke to the ghost: “You need to leave. I’m sorry, but there’s not enough room in this house for you and us, and I’m sure as shit not moving again.”

Ok, so it’s not quite what Father Karras would have done, but this was my first exorcism.

And the result?

Well, my mom and I left the house for dinner and a movie and came back with some trepidation three hours later.

Walking into the living room, I could see that my words had some effect.

All the books on my shelves were knocked off and in the middle of the living room floor.

Damn. That ghost knew how to cut me to the bone. Don’t mess with my books.

After a weekend where I was terrified to stay in my own new home, but I refused to be ran out of it, I came to a realization.

Maybe sharing the new house with a ghost who sticks up for My Girl in arguments isn’t such a bad thing.

For the next few months, our invisible friend made minor mischief: opened a few Christmas presents, left the dirty dish towel in random spots around the house, made bedtime story suggestions by dropping specific books in the middle of the floor. But other than that, it didn’t try to play My Little Ponies with My Girl again. I don’t blame it. That TV show is brutal.

So it seems I came to an unspoken agreement with the ghost in My Girl’s room: I won’t mess with it if it doesn’t mess with her.  

Posted in Mommyhood

Haunted House – My Girl Style

My Girl is as much as an otherworldly mystery as the haunted house she created

The creativity of My Girl knows no bounds. Also, the odd places her mind goes has no limits. In honor of Halloween, I’m going to relate the haunted house she created throughout our entire upstairs.

You might think: How cute that My Girl was so inspired by our recent Halloween family activities that she wanted to prolong the fun with her own invention!

Wrong.

She created this elaborate haunted house in July.

My Girl the Mystery

But spooky things are never far from My Girl’s mind. She’s a beautiful, little puzzle.

For example, this girl begged to be a unicorn for Halloween three years in a row. (Try to find three completely different unicorn costumes. I dare you.)

Who wore it best? Or rather, which did she wear best?

This girl has more toy snakes than she has dolls. And this girl has a fake plastic rat that she named Princess Sprinkle Sparkles.

My Girl Knows About Zombies

The most perplexing thing about her, though, may be her love-hate relationship with zombies. She’s fascinated by them. When she was tiny, like age four, she would thrill The Husband and I with random knowledge. When we asked her how she knew that, she would reply:

“I know things. Especially things about zombies.”

Who was talking about zombies? She had just explained in excruciating detail the difference between leopard and jaguar spots. But apparently, My Girl is always talking about zombies.

Maybe zombies are always on her mind because she’s truly terrified of them. She makes me check a dark room for them. I have to rearrange her closet on a regular basis because in the dark, her clothes look like zombies. And, I’ve had many arguments with her, trying to convince her that zombies aren’t real.

Once, the discussion over the scientific possibility of zombies with My Girl was held in front of her elementary principal as I dropped her off for school. He was smiling as he listened to us argue about it, but I’m sure he was judging me – mainly because I was not winning this argument. So I pulled out my best stuff:

Me: “Which of us went to college? Me. So I know. I even have a master’s degree.”

My Girl, like everyone else in my life, doesn’t care about my advanced education. “Well,” she retorted, “I finished the first level of science on my iPad.”

Mike dropped.

Another unicorn costume. Doesn’t My Girl look all sweet and adorable? Don’t let that smile fool you. She sleeps with a plastic rat toy.

The Haunted House Tour

But like the little paradox that she is, My Girl created a haunted house. At least all those Halloween toys that her Mimi keeps buying her came to good use.

Italian, Sugar-Hyped Tour Guide

The tour of the haunted house was given by a creature who looked a lot like My Girl, but sounded like an Italian Count Chocula who just swallowed three balloons of helium. This creature was dressed like My Girl – unicorns on the leggings and a “Rainbow is my favorite color” t-shirt – but it moved like a caffeinated milliped shaking its backhalf through a snake-curved maze.

You have to give it to My Girl for the theatrics. Her Dracula accent needs some work, but she goes with what she knows: a really cheesy and borderline offensive Italian accent. She gets a lot of practice since she loves when we speak “Italian” on spaghetti night.

“Yooo wanta more-a spaghettio?”

“Yes-a. It’s a deliziosa.”

I’m pretty sure we offend multiple nationalities on spaghetti night.

Rainbow Bats

After Squeaky Count Choco-italia welcomed us to the haunted house (we being myself and my parents), we were instructed to follow with tiny millipede steps up the darkened stairs. Halfway up, we were attacked by paper bats. In the pitch black, we couldn’t see My Girl’s hand guiding the rainbow-colored bats (yes, rainbow-colored, because even when My Girl is pretending to be scary, she’s still My Girl).

After surviving the bat attack, we ventured slowly toward My Girl’s room. Before we could peek in, a “ghost” screamed and came after us.

The Surprise Ghost Zombie

This ghost turned out to be The Husband donned in My Girl’s favorite white blankie. The screams emitted from My Girl were genuine, as this ghost was not part of her planned haunted house. Also, The Husband was channeling his inner zombie while looking like a ghost – very confusing and also terrifying for My Girl.

Other highlights of My Girl’s haunted house: a Kit Kat bar hiding in the closet, a mummified macaw and a squeaky toilet lid covered by a handmade jack-o-lantern picture. That is scary indeed if one needs to use the potty.

That’s not something you want to see when opening the toilet lid. Scaaaary!

My Haunted House Expertise

I’m a bit ashamed to say that I am in a position to be a judge on My Girl’s haunted house creation. Unbeknownst to me, I took a job as the lonely writer of the nation’s largest haunted house magazine many midnights ago.

True. That is not a job one usually falls into unwittingly. But in my defense, I thought the job was to be the writer for a magazine with the demographics of professional athletes. Since my intention when completing a journalism degree in college was to be a sports writer, this seemed like a great fit.

But the periodical for athletes somehow morphed into a journal about silicone masks and animatronics and spooky lighting design.

Oddly, my journalism classes covered none of that. Huh.

The other burning question you might be asking is how many magazines are there in the nation who cover professional haunted houses, since I worked for the nation’s largest. Two. There are two.

I’m sure you can see why this stint as a haunted house reporter is not on my resume.

The Horror of Haunted Houses

While I love rewatching the video of our haunted house experience, this just further proves the riddle that is My Girl.

Creating a walkthrough experience throughout the entire upstairs with just notebook paper and leftover Halloween trinkets – that’s totally My Girl. She’s been known to throw a fabulous party just to celebrate a Tuesday night (see here if you missed it); and once, with the help of her cousin and Papa Troublemaker (his actual name used by My Girl not a cutesy pseudonym for this blog) she put on a circus – complete with paper-made snow cones and dancing elephants.

But creating a haunted house, now that’s part of the mystery.

My Girl, despite her love-hate relationship with zombies, is irrationally afraid of haunted houses. Maybe this is my innate dislike of them rubbing off on her. (Did I mention I accidentally ended up as the writer for a haunted house magazine? I’m still traumatized.)

It’s strange, because My Girl is pretty brave. But haunted houses… Those get her every time.

Once, while attending Zoo Boo at our favorite zoo with Leslie Ann and her family, we made the mistake of riding the family-friendly, haunted train. That was three years ago. My Girl still won’t ride the train at the zoo. And I mean the regular, it’s a sunny June day train.

And don’t get me started on the nightmare that was taking My Girl, Jane and Little LuLu to the haunted house at the children’s museum last year.

Let me stress that it was the haunted house at the children’s museum. A haunted house that didn’t even make Little LuLu (at the time, age three) even stutter step or pause in fright. A haunted house that Jane thought was wonderful.

A side note about Jane, the poor girl’s heart is so tender that she once was angry with me because I didn’t pre-watch a zoo documentary on Disney+ where a black rat snake died of old age. A. Black. Rat. Snake. Who would consider that an unhappy ending? Jane. That’s who.

But this haunted house at the children’s museum, no effect whatsoever on Jane.

My Girl, on the other hand, sobbed and held onto me with an iron grip the entire way through.

In My Girl’s defense, this haunted house could have been pretty scary if the lights were off and ghosts and goblins were darting out at you from every dark corner.

But when we went through it, at the witching hour of three o’clock in the afternoon, the lights were turned on bright, and instead of goblins, there were nice museum volunteers with flashing jack-o-lantern necklaces, big smiles and bowls of candy.

Still My Girl has PTSD from the whole experience.

Won’t she be so mad when I finally tell her that I’m pretty sure her room was haunted at one point? To be continued…

Posted in Mommyhood

Nonstop Talker

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.

Obsessive Talker

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.

My Girl just can’t help herself. She’s a nonstop talker.

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.

Monkey Talker

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?”

Me: “Yes?”
My Girl: “I don’t remember… Actually, I didn’t have anything to say. I just wanted to talk.”

At least she’s honest.

It’s not unusual to see My Girl in animal ear headbands. It’s not a fashion statement. It’s an act of desperation to get her to listen more than she talks.

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.

Piano Prodigy

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.

Pounce Listener

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.

Nonstop Reasons

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.

Yes.

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.

Nonstop Listener

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.”

Wow.

And ouch.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”