Today, Day 12 of the WordCount Blogathon, is a guest-post exchange day, so I’m swapping posts with writer and mom Caren Chesler, who blogs at The Dancing Egg, which is about having conceived her only son, Eddie, in her forties — through IVF and with a donor egg. Here, she writes about her struggle to tune in to a repetitive toddler (Mommy? Mommy? Mommy? Can you hear me?) I’m sure you’ll be able to relate!
As I sat in a café working the other day, I watched a man with sunglasses walk up to the counter and begin talking to the woman behind it, while his young daughter hung on his leg and said, “I want to go potty, daddy. I want to go potty. I want to go potty, daddy. I want to go potty. I want to go potty, daddy. I want to go potty.”
She said it not less than 20 times.
“You want to go potty?” her father finally asked.
An astute man, I thought.
As I watched them, I had two diametrically opposing thoughts:
“Why isn’t he listening to her? She should just let the pee run down her leg. That’ll teach him to listen.”
“Oh, for the love of god, will you stop that incessant chatter. If that were my child, I’d hang myself.” I wondered if her repetitiveness is what made him stop listening to her in the first place.
It’s hard to be attentive. Children can be boring. I have a two-year old whose conversational skills remind me of a game of Yahtzee. The two dozen words he knows are constantly reinserted into a cup like dice and spilled out onto the board so they form new combinations – though no sentence is longer than three or four words: “No dinner.” “No go bed.” “Mommy’s boobies.”
The sentences are slightly longer when he refers to himself in the third person, like former Senator Bob Dole used to do when he was running for president: “Eddie no want dinner.” “Eddie get down.”
While he’s come a long way very quickly – he’s only been on the planet two years – it doesn’t make for very scintillating conversation. The result is I space out. Often. And I’ll find that in that white noise I had tuned out, he is sometimes saying something pretty important, like the fact that his shoe has fallen off, or that both of his legs are stuck in the same hole, when he’s sitting in the seat of a grocery cart.
One morning, he was in the bath while I was in the shower across the room, and he kept saying, “Mommy, come here. Mommy, come here. Come here, mommy.” He’d already called me three or four times, and I kept popping out of the shower to see what he wanted only to find it was nothing. So on the fifth time, instead of peaking my head out of the shower door, I continued to wash my hair and kept responding, “Okay, buddy, okay.” When I got out of the shower, I saw he had pooped in the tub and had cloistered himself on one side of the bath to avoid the floating piece of excrement.
I try to be attentive. I really do. And when I manage to slow down and stop texting or checking my email or thinking about work, when I stop running up and down the stairs to do laundry or racing around the kitchen to get dinner ready, when I push everything else aside and really listen to him, my son can be interesting.
I feel bad I’m not a better listener to my son. My husband doesn’t listen very well to me, and I don’t like it a bit. It’s a perennial issue in our relationship, with almost every argument featuring the refrain, “I just said that. Didn’t you hear me?” So I know quite well how it feels to not be heard. My husband, for his part, says his listening skills are fine. He maintains the reason I feel unheard is because I was mollycoddled as a child. In a word, I was overheard, he says.
I shouldn’t be too hard on myself about not listening to my son. He doesn’t listen very well to me, either. I often have to say things twenty times before he hears me. Yesterday afternoon, we were riding in the car, and as I drove, he kept saying, “Eddie want snack bar.”
“I can’t get it now. Mommy’s driving,” I said.
“Eddie want snack bar.”
“Not now. Mommy’s driving.”
“Noooooo! Eddie want snack bar,” he said.
“Eddie, I can’t give you a snack bar right now. You’ll have to wait!” I said.
There was some kicking. He then screamed at the top of his lungs a few times before I found a pacifier and handed it to him. He never did hear me. He was simply diverted.
In the end, I probably don’t want him to feel like his every utterance will be heard and addressed. He’s an only child, and I already worry about him having an excessive sense of importance. As it is, he doesn’t walk into rooms. He struts in. And the first words he’ll say aren’t just spoken. They’re declared, as he looks from face to face at everyone in the room to make sure we’re all listening. I like that he feels he is a person of consequence. I hate the profound disappointment on his face when he looks around that room and sees he’s not the only person of consequence. Better he know that now than later.