A Quiet Exploration or Why I Need to Shut My Cake Hole

Grown and FlownThis 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.

 

 

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KateJustAte

It started out as an elaborate joke.

In 2010, my friend Christy and I, both editors in different cities for the same nationwide parenting website, had been on the phone discussing search engine optimization and the search queries people use to find information on the Internet. We were fascinated by websites that captured readers through common search term misspellings, like “lisence plates” instead of “license plates.”

“You know what would be really funny?” Christy giggled, sending yet another work-related conversation off the rails. “If you had a blog called Kate Just Ate. You’d get all kinds of traffic from people trying to Google Kate Plus 8!”

The idea of building blog readership from careless typists searching for a reality TV show about Kate Gosselin and her brood of eight kids was ridiculous, but because Christy and I shared the same weird sense of humor, I felt compelled to take it a step further. As soon as we got off the phone, I sat down at my computer, opened up BlogSpot, and created KateJustAte: A log of things I’ve eaten, created solely to entertain my friend, Christy.

My first—and what I assumed would be my only—post was a humorous confessional about eating odd European cookies and a stash of chocolate bars I had hidden in the basement, complete with a well-styled photo of the confections. I sent Christy a link to the blog and waited. Within minutes, she upped the ante, responding to my absurd blog with an equally absurd list of topics for future posts.

A week later, Christy was on a quest to find food—the more bizarre, the better—for me to eat and write about on KateJustAte. She recommended restaurants, forwarded recipes, and even sent me a 20-pound box packed with all kinds of unusual items she’d found at an Asian food market: crispy wafer rolls, mixed bean crackers with dried anchovies, cashew nut crisp, rice candy, duck-flavored noodles, aloe vera dessert, seasoned cockles, and more.

Asian Food

Care packages with goodies from Christy were nothing new. She had been sending trinkets and a wide array of foods from her home in Orlando to my family outside Philadelphia for years. We received Key limes from a tree in her backyard to make a pie, candy for Halloween, homemade treats at Christmas and Hanukkah, alligator jerky because…I actually have no idea why she sent the alligator jerky. Christy loved surprising my family with food and silly gifts almost as much as we loved receiving them.

For months, I diligently wrote amusing stories about things I ingested for KateJustAte, everything from the contents of Christy’s package to meals my husband cooked with my daughter to cuisine our family enjoyed on vacation. Many friends seemed to like the blog, but none more than Christy. It was a fun project—our project, a bridge over the miles that separated our respective cities.

KateJustAte never developed much of a following (the search term-challenged Kate Plus 8 fans Christy had anticipated never materialized) and as life moved forward, I eventually ran out of time to write posts. Our jokes about the blog, as well as Christy’s threats to send me more strange food, continued right up until her sudden, devastating death in the summer of 2013.

Though KateJustAte has been dormant for years, I still occasionally type the URL into my browser and read through it. Sometimes, I consider resurrecting the lighthearted log of things I’ve eaten or firing off one last, goofy post in honor of Christy, but KateJustAte just doesn’t feel worth writing if she’s not around to read it. My friend would understand my reluctance to revive the old blog, and as I consider ideas at the launch of this new blog, an informal place to park my writing, I can hear her giggling, “You know what would be really funny?”