Parenting in Silence

How ironic that it’s now just two months from the release of my new book, all about the significance of having regular and frequent conversations with your kids, and I’m currently forbidden from speaking. I recently underwent a vocal cord procedure which requires complete voice rest and then a slow re-introduction of speech. I’m at day 16 and I’m finding that the thoughts in my head are now as loud as my voice once was. I dream at night of talking and the dreams are so vivid I wake up clasping my mouth, afraid I have interrupted my healing process.  And as a result of having to remain mum, I’m practicing conversation with my own kids in an entirely new way.

 
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Living in silence has not meant living without a voice. I can speed-write as though taking dictation from own thoughts, and I gesture frantically in lieu of speaking. I was once fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and am enjoying signing with my daughter who coincidentally is taking ASL as her second language. It’s interesting to me how my children seem more intuitive at times than even my husband, as if they know what I am about to say next. My son will look at me, at first confused at my gesture and then he’ll get it and utter, “oh, empty the dishwasher.” They’ve made a game of it - who best understands mom, a combination of crazy-eyed stares, ASL and charades.

 

I’ve had the chance to do a lot of thinking and to reflect on my role in day-to-day and deeper conversations. Writing everything out or gesturing requires that I think before I speak - every time!  I often find myself pausing before attempting to communicate, taking a moment to consider, is this important enough to go through the whole process of communicating to someone else? Is this significant enough that I should grab my notebook or type it on my phone? This experience is making me appreciate communications as never before.

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Since responding to others takes a new effort and extra time, I often fall behind in conversations, and while that can be extremely frustrating, it also gives me a chance to truly listen. I will often jump for my pen while someone else is mid-sentence or mid-story. But by the time I finish writing, the conversation has moved past the point where my interjection would come appropriately. It’s actually shown me how much I tend toward interruption. I know from my voice therapy that as I begin to talk again I will be expected to take a deep breath and speak slowly. Perhaps this will stop me from jumping in too fast and help me become a better listener. Will I prioritize what to say more meaningfully?

 

Family and friends have been incredibly supportive, sending beautiful flowers and checking in by text (which feels like an even playing ground to me right now). And my children have been keeping my spirits up and taking very good care of me. This has been an extremely challenging experience, including being without a voice during the yearly exercise of preparing my kids to go back to school. My husband has been bearing the true brunt. I am physically and emotionally exhausted after a day of trying to keep up and not only has he been helping with my communications, he has been a rock of support. A typically introverted man, he has been forced to keep the conversation rolling for two, which I can only imagine has been a learning experience for him as much as it has been for me. My hope is that our family will learn just a little more about our communication styles - but I know we’ve already done enough work to have a leg up at the next game night when it comes to playing charades!

Why Taylor Swift's Reputation Matters

In my four-plus decades on the planet, I had never been to a pop concert. The closest thing was a Crosby Stills and Nash concert at an outdoor amphitheater back when I was in college. And, I did see Surreal Neil (a Neil Diamond impersonator) once at a bar in San Francisco. It was obviously time for me to go, and why not embrace this new adventure with my kids and finally be inducted into the hip crowd?

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I wasn’t the biggest Taylor Swift fan, though I always enjoyed her songs. I first heard You Belong with Me when my niece was singing it in a video she shared with me, and my kids made fun of me as I would sing along (more like hum along) to Love Story or Blank Space in the car (coming in conveniently at the end of the chorus where I knew the words). She was a good singer, but beyond her catchy tunes, I didn’t know much about her.

During a rare weekend, when my family was all home and open to adventure, we hopped in the car, drove 13 hours, toured Louisville, KY, where we’d never been before, and attended a stadium concert of Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. Now I LOVE Taylor Swift and finally understand the screaming girls that populate her concerts. I was one of them. Let it be said, as I am sure it already has been, Taylor Swift puts on a FABULOUS show! She truly rocks! And I couldn’t get enough.

Before the concert, as my kids were prepping me by playing the the songs I didn’t know, I was dreading the six-sets. Ugh - it would be crowded, hot, and go on with all these songs I don’t even know. I masked my curmudgeonly attitude and, I couldn't have been more wrong. I could have danced all night! In fact, when she said goodnight, I looked over at my daughter and asked, “She’s done? It’s over?”

I was impressed with how Swift incorporated her struggle into her performance. She shared her experiences of frustration and confusion through video segments and her own live narration between songs. While I assume much of the narration was to tie sets together and to appease her audience, it felt authentic and her words reflected a truly human experience. No matter how contrived these transitions may have been, they seemed cathartic for her and informing for her audience. She talked about her pain and needing time to reflect and re-brand. When people cheered, she leaned on her fans and shared an appreciation for them in their understanding.

It was great to be there together, singing, dancing, enjoying the pyrotechnics, and the snow cones (albeit pricey at the concessions) were perfect for the hot night (still 90 degrees after sunset).

Now as we listen to the Reputation album over and over and really focus on the words, it’s started a conversation in our family about reputations, pain, friendships, public appearance, and coping strategies.

In This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, I didn’t understand why she laughs off “forgiveness is a nice thing to do.” After all, that part of the song sounds like it could easily have come from one of the many CDs I used to play with my toddler children. When I asked my kids, “Why is she laughing? After all, isn’t forgiveness a nice thing to do?” They each had a response.

One of my children posited that she had been hurt by someone and tried to forgive and it didn’t work out so she has to move on.

Another of my kids tried to explain to me that just because something is nice to do doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. We were able to explore forgiveness.

This has helped us to broach the topics so relevant to our two teens and tween. There is a struggle to find a balance between caring about what people think and doing your own thing. And what about when what someone else thinks becomes what they say behind (or in front) of your back? Then how does that affect what others think, and should you care?

It’s easy at the dinner table to simply say, “It doesn’t matter what other people think.” But while that might be an ideal and we want our kids to do the “right” thing no matter what others think, it’s simply not as simple as that.

Now I feel I have an added resource for this all-important conversation. Sometimes forgiveness isn’t the right thing to do. How can we get back on the proverbial tour and continue to do what we love, but perhaps a little differently? I’m so grateful for the shared  experience of my first pop concert and all it offered us, in the stadium and out.