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.




Your Grade-Schooler Doesn’t Need a Cell Phone

ParentCo_Badge_WriterLRGThis essay, which argues against giving cell phones to young children, originally appeared as part of the “Debate Club” series in the digital publication Parent.co.

It happened nearly a decade ago: My third-grader had just climbed into the school bus and as I watched her take a seat from my spot on the sidewalk, I noticed another child gazing vacantly out the bus window as he chatted on a cell phone. Who’s on the other end of that call? I wondered. And what could possibly be so important that a 10-year-old needs a phone – at 8:30 a.m., no less?

I thought about that boy all day. While I could envision situations where it might be handy for a child to have his or her own phone – a kid is hurt or needs a ride home, a parent wants to convey an urgent message – I couldn’t find a way to justify purchasing a cell phone for a child that young. I still can’t.

As adults, I think we can all admit to a certain level of addiction to, or at least heavy reliance on, our phones. We use them for everything from calls and email, to maps and shopping. They make life infinitely easier. Though my husband and I were late adopters who didn’t succumb to mobile phones until the mid-2000s, I can no longer imagine trying to navigate life – both literally and figuratively – without a smart phone.

Sometimes, however, the convenience of phone ownership begins to feel more like a burden. There is stress attached to checking incessant call, text, email, and app notifications; monitoring data usage to avoid overage charges; and protecting devices from loss, breakage, and theft. Are those concerns kids need to manage while they’re still learning the ropes of life in elementary school? I don’t think so.

In addition to being unnecessary worries and distractions, cell phones are also viewed as status symbols, expensive devices that contribute to low self-esteem by highlighting the division between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” When she saw that boy on the bus with the cell phone in elementary school, my daughter immediately assumed he was wealthy and we were poor because she didn’t have a phone. In reality, cost didn’t factor heavily into our decision to postpone her phone.

While there are benefits to having round-the-clock access to our children, there is no realneed for it, especially during school hours. We all grew up without individual phones and our parents had no trouble getting messages to us in the classroom. School staff and teachers are still happy to communicate information between parents and their children. If you’re sending a friend to pick up your kid at school, someone from the office will let her know. If your child gets sick and needs to go home, the school nurse will find a way to get in touch.

When young kids aren’t at school, most parents know exactly where they are and all of those places – home, a friend’s home, after-school programs, sports programs, etc. – offer landlines and/or supervising adults with cell phones that children and their parents can use to communicate.

Some might consider withholding immediate access to parents or caregivers via cell phone as unfair or even cruel, but it actually allows children to think independently and become more self-reliant. If, for example, a student forgets his homework and his teacher won’t let him call someone to bring it to school, that’s unfortunate, but turning an assignment in late provides a valuable life lesson about responsibility and preparedness.

When should kids get cell phones? That’s obviously up to their parents, but in my experience, middle school seems to be about right. School work, athletics, and activity schedules tend to ramp up in middle school, and teachers, coaches, and program administrators begin relying more heavily on electronic communication. When my daughter played field hockey in eighth grade, for instance, her coach shared information through email and a team Facebook page. If after-school practice was changed or cancelled during the school day and my daughter didn’t have access to the internet, her only hope of getting that information was from a teammate with a phone.

There are exceptions, of course, but in general, I believe that giving mobile phones to grade-schoolers benefits adults, not children. Young kids may think it’s cool or fun to have a phone, but it’s unfair to try to alleviate our own parental anxieties by burdening our offspring with additional, undue stress and responsibility. I say we let children be children, as carefree and unencumbered as possible, for as long as we can.

Alone May Be Where You Are, But It Isn’t Who You Are

ml_published_badge_ltblue1This essay, a tribute to my extraordinary daughter and everyone staying strong through the struggle, originally appeared in Mamalode magazine.

You put on a happy face for me, sweet daughter, but I know exactly where you go the moment you leave my side: Alone, population one. You’ve been a reluctant visitor to that dreary backwater many times before and though you may feel stuck there now, defeated and lonely, you are not. You never really were.

Resilience had your back the day you tried to talk to those other little girls in front of the elementary school. When they rolled their eyes and turned away, you smiled and climbed into the waiting bus.

Humor made you giggle behind a curtain in the emergency room when you had an asthma attack on Christmas Eve, even though you were afraid Santa wouldn’t come if you weren’t at home, sleeping.

Sincerity coaxed a fragile smile from your lips when you came home from a slumber party with magic marker all over your face because, as you explained, everyone at the overnight had agreed that the first person to fall asleep would receive the graffiti treatment.

Grit was your co-star on the stages where you poured your heart into every role after enduring countless fruitless auditions.

Confidence escorted you to a school dance when your date cancelled two hours earlier.

Fortitude accompanied you to more funerals than any kid should have to attend.

Resolve pushed you out the door to school every day when fatigue and depression beckoned you back to the cozy sanctuary of your bed.

Dignity insisted you were better off without the boy who left when you didn’t give him what he wanted.

Courage convinced you to leave the boy you love when you couldn’t give him what he needed.

Empathy gently reminds you why he withholds his forgiveness.

Determination drove you to another doctor’s office after all the appointments that came before were dead ends on the road to a diagnosis.

Persistence called shotgun when you continued on your quest to find out why you’re so exhausted and the numbers on the scale keep creeping higher.

Optimism waited just outside the fitting room, knocking occasionally to see if you needed anything.

Self-acceptance wrapped you in its arms as your eyes, framed in soft, smoky hues for the occasion, studied your reflection in the mirror and scrutinized the figure beneath the elegant prom dress.

Alone may be where you are right now, but it is not who you are, baby girl, and it is not your final destination. You and the good company you keep will travel far from this place. Soon, all of these fine attributes will be on hand to hoist you up (and comfort your weepy mother) as you walk across a stage to receive your high school diploma. In August, these lifelong cohorts will tag along to college where you can introduce them to new companions who will likely be by your side on the rest of your journey. Who you are and the qualities you possess will take anywhere you want to go.