This essay, about my decision to talk less and listen more, originally in the digital publication Grown & Flown.
I gave birth to my first child more than 18 years ago and it honestly feels as if I haven’t stopped talking since. Babbling to the baby, babbling about the baby, talking to the toddler, teaching the toddler to talk, pleading with the preschooler to stop talking for just five blissful minutes before my ears start to bleed, chatting with the child, preaching to the preteen, arguing with the adolescent. The perpetual prattle is exhausting. I’m utterly spent, and I think it may be time to explore a new state: quiet.
The concept isn’t entirely foreign. Quiet is how I started out, how I was before I had kids. I am naturally an introvert with limited extrovert capabilities. (There’s a sweet spot, between the first and second beer, when I’m chatty and hilarious before I quickly slip into brooding and drowsy.) Because I’m hard-wired for quiet and not a huge talker, I’ve always surrounded myself with outgoing people who can carry a conversation or at least provide me with plenty of runway for talking takeoff. Motherhood forced me out of my quiet comfort zone, and when I decided I never wanted to be the type of parent who answered a kid’s curious “Why?” with a lazy “I don’t know,” I really painted myself into a corner. Talking eventually became an irrepressible reflex, like breathing or finishing the entire sleeve of Oreos.
In addition to being a psychic drain, constant communication has caused some unpleasant behavioral side effects. I find myself talking over people during conversations and interrupting them with questions, a bad habit which may stem from the propensity to over-explain and repeat everything I developed in case my kids didn’t grasp what I said the first time. Ironically, over time, I somehow acquired that exact processing glitch: If I don’t understand something, I get stuck on it and can’t comprehend the rest of what’s being said or move forward in the conversation. My rude interjections are also the product of a nagging fear that I won’t be able to retain information that’s relevant to a conversation until the other person is done talking because my addled, middle-aged brain has trouble hanging onto that kind of detail while attempting to remember to pick up my kid after track practice, throw away that six-week-old quiche before my husband eats it, and call the vet about our vomiting dog.
I don’t think much will be missed if I cut down on the conversation because at this point, only about 60 percent of what I say actually makes sense and/or is of any value to anyone anyway. (I mean, do people really need to hear the specifics about how my meticulous system for unloading the dishwasher works or the reasons why I find Ice-T compelling as a detective—part of an elite squad—on SVU? No, they do not.) A solid 40 percent of my blather is superfluous and it is definitely time to just shut my cake hole.
Before I begin dialing down the discourse, however, I may need to prep my family so the diminished communication doesn’t get confused with a similar phenomenon that occurs when I’m super angry. Informal polling of my two children revealed that my rage-induced silent treatment is far more terrifying than the yelling that ensues when my husband is upset. I’m not looking to scare anyone or make a point, I just want to switch into energy saver mode and recharge a bit.
Yes, quiet will be a welcome respite, and if I’m not focused on talking, I can listen—really listen—for a change. In a state of quiet, without interruption, maybe I’ll notice my daughter working up the courage to admit that she hates track and wants to quit. Or hear my husband casually mention that he gave the rest of that quiche to the dog. Or detect the crackle of an Oreo package I thought I had sufficiently hidden in the pantry behind the oat bran. There’s no telling where my quiet exploration might lead, but it certainly sounds promising.