What is it about farting that kids find so funny? Four-year-olds talk about the strangest things and most of them smell as strange as they sound. In our house we discuss light sabers, butts, baseball, Nutella, Cat poo, and "stuke-stuke" (Abe's latest word invention-just don't ask) often in the same minute. I realized that I was de-valuing Abe's attempts at vernacular when we went to the beach with some friends. Our friends, the Janeway's (probably the best people in the world...FACT) seriously got on Abe's level and gobbled up all of his kerfuffle. I reflected on my daily responses to his many, many, words. Like, many much words. Truth be told, my running script for him looks like this.
"Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Oh really? Uh-huh. Yep. Uh-huh. Check. 10-4."
"I totally heard you but just in case I wasn't listening can you say that whole thing again."
After a brief survey taken by me, I realized that our whole family was turning into a mono-syllabic nightmare. When did we become THOSE people?? The ones who just need the talking to stop so I can think straight for a moment and finish the laundry. I feel like Listening is quickly becoming a lost art. Not just in our house but in the world at large.
It was time for an intervention family council style. And America, it was a real doozey. Allow me to provide the "minutes" of said meeting for your reading pleasure.
Salutations: ("Get your finger out of his nose")
Lesson: Today we're going to discuss the Art of Listening ("sit down and shut up").
Objective: When we listen, it is important that we show we are listening with our eyes, face and body. ("Roll your eyes one more time and so help me...")
Reason: I, as mama, have noticed a decline in our listening skills. It's not that we are terrible listeners. It's just that we really suck at it. However, your "that's not fair" and screaming skills are completely on point. Listening game however, eh needs some work (The 'Constructive Criticism sandwich' is an important part of my parenting.)
Inspirational thought: Magical things happen when we listen compassionately. ("Like Harry Potter?" Me: "Did he listen to his parents?" Them: "No. They died" Me:"Maybe we're getting off topic here" )
Facts: There are levels to listening. Here are four kinds of listeners we discussed.
The first two are more on the negative side.
1. False Listening: You might be a false listener if you have a lot of conversations that look like this "uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" and "we talked about this, remember?"
2.Casual/Passive Listening - This is the "I'm-just-checking-the-score" listener. The one who was born to multi-task. (Stop the finger pointing...I know, I know)They listen with a phone in their hand All. The. Time. Let's get one thing clear: when you listen to me while looking at your phone, the message is "You are not important". We want everyone to feel important. Here's the truth...everyone is important. Everyone. If my kid doesn't feel important with me, he is going to find a group where he does feel important. Do I want that? No, I want him to feel important in my house with me. PUT. THE. PHONE. DOWN. PEOPLE NOW.
The last two are more positive.
3. Discriminate Listening: The Land of the "Sure" AKA the first year of my marriage. So when I ask my husband if he could mow the lawn on his next day off and he says sighs and says "sure", if I'm really listening he did NOT say yes. What does "sure" even mean?? The lesson for discriminate listening that we discussed THOROUGHLY in family council was that when we say "Yes" we do so with our words, our face and our body. Alas, we should say everything with our words our face and our body. It's part of being an authentic person.
4. Compassionate Listener: If you can become a compassionate listener, prepare to have a lot of friends. When you are this kind of listener, you put away your own agenda (and phone). You ask questions out of genuine concern, love and curiosity.
Quick Story: The first time I remember being compassionately listened to without an agenda I was 13. Thanks to my Dad's sudden death, I was a sleep- deprived, anxiety-ridden, hot mess of a teenager. I was cold in my very bones and no one's attempts to thaw me out with a hug or tenderness were successful, bless their hearts. I didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to be with people. I didn't want to talk but was so angry that no one was listening. If I had to look at that "I'm so sorry" face etched on each of the faces I saw, I might smack someone. You can see I had set humanity up in a no-win scenario. In the ebb and flow that is grief, I was floundering and on this specific day I was ready to succumb to complete despair and let the waves wash over me. When, all of a sudden....ring, ring....a phone call for me.
My friend, Damon, had called and asked how I was doing. To make this even more genuine, Damon had struggles of his own as he was currently watching his Dad pass away of cancer. Yet, here he was reaching out in concern.
"I'm great. Just fine. How're you? I've got something in my throat. Can I call you later?" Now, the casual listener would have accepted my excuse and moved on. But this friend was a Compassionate Listener of the highest order. He heard the words, but understood the meaning. He said "It's ok to not be ok." "Oh, I know. It's just an an... I'm tired. I'll call you a little later." I hung up and started to sob. Four and a half minutes later, who should walk in my room but Damon.
"I heard what you said. Then I opened the scriptures and the first words I read were, "visit the home" so I came. I know you want to be alone and I'll leave if you need. But if you want to talk I want to hear what you say." Then the flood-gates opened wide. I told him all about how I still smell Dad's after shave in the morning before I start my day. That I still remember Dad's work phone number for when I needed to call him (I still do BTW). That I curled up around a James Taylor tape playing at night in hopes that sleep would come. That sleep rarely came (the nightmares of being six-feet under and not really being dead were very real). That I could forge Dad's signature but not my moms so all future "Sluff-ing" from school was nixed. That I missed his laugh. Dear God, how I miss his laugh. All the things. All the flood. All the feelings. All the day.
Here's what Damon did. He cried with me, asked questions, he didn't judge me at all. He listened compassionately. My friend Mel came shortly thereafter. Again, inspired by tender feelings of the heart. Slowly, I swam to the surface of grief, the wave broke and I survived. I remembered how to breathe. Something started to grow inside me that day. It whispered to me of the warm human I wanted to be someday.
Never, ever underestimate the power you have in being a Compassionate Listener. Making eye contact, human connection and sharing experience with others IS why we are here.
Conclusion: Here's the thing: we are all of these different kinds of listeners usually at some point in the day. All I'm saying is that we as a family, (and we as a society) can do better. Our family is re-committing to treating each others words with the value that every four-year-old deserves when they are trying to find words to describe what it feels like being gutted over a lost game or eating a perfect ice cream cone. We are working on doing a little better.