Ears Wide Shut

Listening is truly a lost art form it seems.

People just flat out no longer listen.

Instead, it feels more like people are only listening long enough to catch an opportunity to talk about themselves.

I find myself telling people things – important things – only for my words to be completely ignored.

Don’t even try to ask someone if they were listening. Odds are, they won’t hear that question either.

Listening is important.

You can pick up some pretty important information just from listening.

Case in point, a situation my child came to me about recently.

“You may hear from my teacher,” he began.

That’s never good, I thought. My experience had taught me teachers only called when something was wrong and usually, it was when the wrong-doing was on my behalf.

Instead of jumping right in with my questions, I decided this would be a good time to listen.

Mama always knew if she gave me the quiet treatment long enough, I would spill what she needed to know.

I thought I’d give her tactic a whirl instead of jumping in with my accusations and allegations.

“I made a zero on an assignment, but it counts as a test grade,” he continued after my silence.

“But it wasn’t my fault.”

I nodded slowly.

“Do you want to hear why it wasn’t my fault?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, my teacher told us we had to grade our own assignments, but we had to do in pen. She told us we could not use pencil.”

“OK.”
“I had picked up a pencil in my left hand and had a pen in the right,” he went on. “It was just out of habit. Really. I always have a pencil that I am bouncing. But she came by and picked up my test and gave me a zero. Just because I had a pencil in my hand – and it is not even the hand I write with!”

Now, I could understand his disappointment and frustration at getting the zero. I would have been devastated.

But that was not where his frustration was coming from.

The first point of contention was the teacher was one of his favorites.

She has known him most of his life and in Cole’s opinion, knew he wouldn’t cheat.

His second issue – and the one he was the most vocal about – was that she did not let him explain.

“I wasn’t using the pencil to grade my assignment. I was just bouncing it. Like I said, it wasn’t even in the hand I write with. It was not fair.”

“It didn’t have to be fair,” I said. “She said not to use a pencil.”

“I wasn’t!” he argued. “You aren’t listening to me. I had the pencil in my left hand – I am right handed! I couldn’t change the answer with my left hand.”
“She didn’t know that,” I said.

“She would have known had she let me explain.”

“She didn’t have to let you explain. She said no pencil. You had a pencil. End of story.”

“Did you hear what I said? I said, I had the pencil in my left hand. Not my right. I was not using it. Only bouncing it.”

“Did you hear what your teacher said? She said no pencil. She is a teacher. Not a cop. Not a judge. She is not there to hear your argument or for you to state your case. She told you if you used a pencil, you got a zero. She walked by and saw a pencil in your hand. So, it made sense to conclude you were going to use it. I don’t blame her and stand by her zero.”

I think at that moment, I lost a lot of mom points with my child.

I had always been the first to rush in with the cavalry to defend and protect him.

I had always stood up for him.

But this time, I didn’t. Instead, I told him the teacher was right.

I wasn’t going to call her, nor was I going to email her, asking her to let him explain.

I was going to let him learn this hard lesson.

He had heard his teacher say one thing – not to grade the paper with a pen – and thought he could go do another, as long as he wasn’t grading it.

Her instruction was implied.

It wasn’t spelled out explicitly, but it was more of a subtle understanding: just don’t pick up a pencil, because it will look like you are changing your answer.

And sometimes, those subtle understandings are the hardest to discern. Especially when we are only listening for what we want to hear.

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I am my Mama’s mother’s granddaughter (5/11/2016)

I swore when I was a child – probably more a teenager, really, as they know everything – that I would never be like my Mama.

No, that skinny fire-breathing redhead was crazy.

She thought the silliest things were life-hazards, when riding in a Monte Carlo with her smoking and the windows rolled up was probably more hazardous to my health than me roller skating.

She was strict. More specifically, “controlling” was the word I used from age 15-23.

I thought her sole purpose was to make me a completely uncool spinster.

“Your mama is so nice,” my friends would say.

They would come over to talk to Mama about things they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their own mamas about.

This is the woman who would randomly show up at school in the middle of the day to peek in my class to make sure I was okay.

The woman who would point at me, then the floor, commanding me to come there so she could ask me if I had lunch money or not.

And my friends came over to ‘chill with my mom?’

“Why do my friends come over here and talk to you?” I asked her once bewildered.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it so hard to imagine that I am maybe a nice person and they want to talk to me?”

What in the world did this woman possibly have to talk about?

Other than her heedings and warnings about everything being dangerous, including air, she didn’t have a lot to say.

“What do you say to them?” I asked.

Mama shrugged again. “Nothing really.”

I approached Granny with this dilemma.

“You wanna know why your friends come over here to talk to your Mama? It’s because she’s quiet. She actually listens to them,” the old gal said.

“She does what?”

“She listens.”

I reckon Mama has always done that. She is quite the good listener, especially if she is not injecting her listening with her words of warning.

“So my friends come over here because she listens? Don’t I listen?”

Granny shook her head.

“No, you too busy telling everyone what your opinion is like they care. They don’t want to know what you think of their boyfriends. Knowing you, you’ve already said it. They want someone that’ll listen to them and let them figure it out on their own.”

The old gal evidently missed the irony of her statement.

She spent a goodly portion of her time expressing her unrequested opinion on everyone along with her judgements. If Granny disagreed with what someone was doing, instead of trying to be a compassionate person as Mama does, she told them what she thought, holding nothing back.

And Mama was quiet. I think some folks may have thought she was aloof but she was really just more reserved and observant.

Granny, on the other hand, would not shut up.
“I’m shy and don’t feel comfortable talking to a bunch of strangers,” she said – an outright lie—out of the blue one day.

“I bet the greeter at Walmart wished that were true; you spent 15 minutes the other day discussing your hysterectomy with them.”

“They asked how I was, and I told them,” was her response.

Granny believing she was shy was almost comical. A bull in a China shop that had been poked with a fire was more subtle than this woman.

And she didn’t feel comfortable talking to strangers? She never met a stranger. She would go up and start talking to someone like she had known them for years.

I think when she worked in a sewing plant, she talked so much they had to move her away from one of her best friends. That didn’t work; she just started talking to whoever they moved her next to.

Mama was the quiet, compassionate empathizer and then there was Granny, the chatterbox full of judgements she felt needed to be shared.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

I’m not like my Mama at all.

It’s worse. Much, much worse.

listeningman

If only they’d listen (2/4/15)

No one listens to me.

No one.

I kind of know how my own Mama feels.

“Do you ever feel like people don’t listen to you?” Mama asked me one day.

“What?” was my response.

She sighed, proving that giving birth doesn’t obligate one to listen.

“No one listens to me,” she repeated. “I tell people things, and they just look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Does that ever happen to you?”

Of course it happens to me.

I am a parent myself and I am married. I have two people right in front of me who think what I say is crazy talk.

“What are you telling them they aren’t listening to?” I asked.

“All kinds of things,” she said. “But they always think I am wrong.”

Again, I know how she feels.

I have told Cole to do – or more specifically, not do – something and he will do it anyway.

“Did you hear me when I told you not to do that?” I will ask him.

“Yes,” he will say, upset. “But I thought it would turn out differently.”

“How did you think it would turn out exactly?”

“The way I wanted it to.”

My husband is just as bad at not listening. I can’t tell you how many times I have told him something and he’ll completely disregard my warning. Like when I clean out the fridge and put leftovers in the trash.

“You need to take the trash out,” I will tell him.

“I will,” he will say, annoyed at my request. He forgets, we go somewhere and come home to three guilty looking girls and a floor littered with what looks like a small landfill exploded.

“I bet that makes you want to say ‘I told you so,'” I told her.

It did. She loves to say it, too. She has a roundabout way of doing it, with her, “Well, I am not one to say this but if I were, I would be saying ‘I told you so’ about right now…”

She has a dance that goes with it that is even more annoying but she hasn’t broke either one of them out in a while.

Probably because she hasn’t had the opportunity to do so lately; if she is right, about anything, I am taking it with me to the grave.

“You know what’s worse, Mama?”

She couldn’t imagine. My mother has been on a soapbox for as long as I can remember, spouting off her outrage at injustices and unfairness, promoting what she feels is everyone’s inalienable rights, even when it is something as trivial as to which way the toilet paper needs to hang, so she found it hard to believe there was something worse than someone not listening.

“When someone asks you for advice and then doesn’t take it.”

“Who does that?” she shrieked.

To Mama’s horrors, I told her about people who were always sharing their issues and complaints, their problems, and when given sound, logical advice chose to forego it and not listen.

“That would really tick me off,” Mama said. “If someone asked me what to do and then didn’t listen to my advice that would really make me mad.”

Of course, she has pretty much stayed mad at me since I was four for that very reason, but she wasn’t thinking about this fact and I wasn’t going to bring it up.

“How do we get people to listen to us?” Mama wanted to know.

Good question, I thought.

Cole even admits he doesn’t listen and defends his right to do so.

Once, another student stole Cole’s $5 bill out of Cole’s desk at school.

Cole got his money back, but when the principal was asking him about the money, Cole admitted he had put it in his pocket and forgot to take it out.

“Mama told me to, but I didn’t listen to her,” he told the principal sincerely. “I should have listened.”

“Oh, but you’ll know to listen next time,” she replied.

“I doubt it. I probably won’t then, either,” was his honest reply.

He has even told me, “I sometimes occasionally listen to you, but not every day and not always and only halfway.”

At least I know someone is listening, even if the consistency is sporadic.

“You don’t listen to Nennie,” he said, looking up from his Minecraft game. “So don’t go judging me for doing the same thing you do.”

True, young grasshopper, I thought.

When Mama told me something, even when she was meaning to be helpful, it was irritating, condescending, pandering, as if I was too foolish to know what to do. Her frantic calls and text messages urging me, “It’s raining – don’t leave the house,” or, one that really annoys me is her, “Supposed to be really cold tonight – make sure you’re warm.”

Why that annoys me, I don’t know, but it makes me want to run around in freezing rain barefoot while wearing shorts and a tank top.

Maybe it is some sort of inner child raging and rebelling in all of us – resenting when someone is just meaning to help.

I was considering all this until I heard a crash. I had just told Cole not to leave his plate balanced on the arm of the couch, and what happened?

I sighed and got the dustpan and broom.

If only they’d listen.

But none of us ever do.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/16051/