Hearing through the noise

Senseless chatter is my new pet peeve.

Even as I set foot from my bedroom in the morning, I am subjected to the verbal pull of my children. Always a chipper early riser, my 11-year-old son seats himself at the kitchen island and proceeds to talk at (not to) me.

As he monologues, I feel my brain sluggishly turning about, still covered up and dreaming. I respond zombie-like as I try to get breakfast on the table, but it doesn’t deter him from talking a blue streak about anything that comes to mind: a rabbit warren he’s designed, a Mario strategy he’s perfected, a koala’s receding habitat, his top-five favorite fish (not mammals) that live in the sea.

He has always been an extroverted blabber. Upon a recent consultation with his baby book, I saw that I started writing down his spoken words at 15 months – just a handful (hard to believe) – but by the time he’d reached 20 months, I simply wrote “too many words to write.” It was likely an understatement.

My brother-in-law recently told me that his new nickname for my son is “limitless,” after the movie about the writer who takes a pill that allows him to access a large percentage of his brain, bringing about life-changing creative and intellectual expansions. This nickname was chosen for him after my son recited from memory a
Saturday Night Live skit that involved dialogue between three different people.

He has a gift for the gab, as they say, and I am usually the lucky recipient of his gift.

My eight-year-old daughter can’t get a word in edgewise, but in the mornings, she is just as tired as I am and usually doesn’t try to compete. After all, she was raised to the sound of the constant drone of her older brother’s voice, so much so that it delayed her own speech for a while. But now, a competitive second-grader, she can talk at me with the best of them in the afternoon carpool, which, incidentally, is a not-so-subtly waged war of words, the prize being my attention and the other sibling’s pouting silence.

Even my baby seems intrigued by the magic of speech. At the tender age of 14 months, she says a few distinct words – her favorite is “dog,” which she uses as a sort of greeting when we lift her from the crib in the mornings. Then she claps for herself, a habit she picked up from her verbally adoring family. If you can talk, we applaud you! Is it any wonder that I use ear plugs at night? Originally installed in the hopes of muffling my husband’s snoring, they now provide my only true silence.

I recently heard of a novel called The Flame Alphabet about an eerie future world in which the speech of children sickens and kills their own parents. I laughed out loud at the premise, thinking the author must have children like mine. And the more I thought about it, I saw the book as a commentary on the values and the dangers of speech, and perhaps palaver of all kinds.

It brings to mind the infamous saying, “Children should be seen and not heard.” I used to scoff haughtily at such a pronouncement.

How cruel, I’d say, to silence the poor children, as if they were meant to be small actors in a grainy, black-and-white film. Children have things to say too. Sadly, I didn’t realize just how much until now.

I’ve considered forcing my little yaks to take periodic vows of silence, pint-sized nuns and a monk living peacefully in my home. I could enforce morning and afternoon yoga and meditation, perhaps, get them little mats and porcelain figurines and a nature-sounds CD.

Or, I could teach them about the art of conversation, the give-andtake of healthy dialogue. It would help, I think, to encourage less mindless prattle and more listening, more observation, more thought before blurting whatever is on their minds. I could encourage my children to be aware of their own speech patterns, to catch themselves when they feel they might be talking at someone, to take note of glazed expressions and monosyllabic responses.

And I could help them understand that the art of listening is an underrated skill in this age of constant noise and motion, endless commentary and instant feedback. We could all stand to get more in touch with our inner introvert once in a while. Imagine: if the world’s yammering were to suddenly stop one day, we might be able to hear each other better.

Diann Ducharme is the author of The Outer Banks House and is a wife, mother of three children and owner of one border collie. You can find her at http://www.diannducharme.com where, she blogs about the writing life.
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