By Shannon Ralph
My son Nicholas talks constantly. Incessantly. Yes, we all think that our kids talk a lot, but Nicholas is special. He has highly developed lungs that allow him to chatter for a good five minutes straight without ever stopping to inhale. He’s a miracle of evolution, really.
To make matters worse, 9 times out of 10, he is not in the same room with me when he is pontificating. He is yelling from the toilet. Or in bed, having been tucked in multiple times and threatened with bodily harm if he emerges from his room one more time. Or he may not even be on the same level of the house with me. He is storytelling from the basement playroom, as I rummage through the kitchen cabinets for anything with a measurable liquor content. (Why do we not keep hard liquor in our house?)
No one wants to ignore their own children. Yes, ignoring other people’s little monstrosities is perfectly acceptable and sometimes the only way to maintain positive social relationships with said monster’s discombobulated and utterly clueless parents. But our own children? The children we have been entrusted to love and nurture and raise to responsible adulthood? Completely ignoring them just seems somehow wrong. Somehow counterintuitive to our ultimate goal of mentally stable adult children capable of changing our diapers when we are old and wrinkled. Ignoring them completely just isn’t an option. At least not ignoring them in such a way that they know we are ignoring them.
As a means of precious self-preservation, I have developed a finely tuned system of completely ignoring Nicholas’s lengthy tales without him even recognizing that I have tuned him out. Because I am fond of you, my dear readers, I will share this system with you. Below you will find ten phrases that you can yell back to your lovely one pontificating loudly from the toilet. You can pretty much insert these phrases at any random point within your child’s lengthy anecdote and your child will think you are paying attention. Your child will think you appreciate their soliloquy. That you are hanging on every word of their interminable monologue. These phrases are magic, my friends. Parenting voodoo at its very best.
- That’s nifty! Or great! Or neat-o! Or spectacular! Really, you can insert any adjective and it may just work. That’s…hairy! Okay…maybe not any adjective, but it’s pretty flexible.
- Go on. A simple classic. It seems counterintuitive. But really, he’s going to keep talking regardless, so you might as well make him feel that you are enjoying his story.
- Go ask your other mother. If you are not in a lesbian relationship, this may not work well for you. Then again, it may just confuse your children long enough to render them momentarily speechless and thus attain your goal of golden silence after all. If you are lucky, they may spend the rest of the day searching for their birth mother.
- I think it’s broken. And if not, we’re out of batteries. Strangely applies to many situations. He doesn’t need to know that you removed the batteries exactly three days after he received his beloved…whatever.
- Uh-oh. That’s not good. This one has a 50/50 chance of being JUST what your kid wants to hear. There’s a pretty good chance he is complaining about some real or perceived wrong he experienced at the hands of his brother/sister/mom/teacher/librarian/pastor (just kidding…we don’t have a pastor, as we are raising our children heathen). This phrase shows that you are feeling his pain. That you understand his frustration. Of course, if he just told you that he was elected president of the 1st grade, this phrase may just ruin his fragile self-esteem and render him a shriveled up man-child for the remainder of his life. Use it judiciously.
- I haven’t seen it. There’s a fairly good chance your child is asking you what you did with his shoes. Or his stuffed dog. Or the sock he left on his bedroom floor yesterday. Or the piece of paper he scribbled on six days ago. Or the 795th piece of precious “artwork” he brought home from school this year. Or the library book that is three weeks overdue. Or the lollipop wrappers he freakishly hoards in his nightstand drawer.
- Okay, just wash your hands when you are done. Sage advice for any situation, really. He is asking to play with the glue? Just wash your hands when you are done. He is asking if he can feed the dog his Go-gurt? Just wash your hands when you are done. Can he cut his own hair? Just wash your hands when you are done. Can he douse himself in his sister’s stash of multicolored vials of glitter while simultaneously finger-painting on the new stainless steel fridge? Just wash your hands when you are done.
- I heard about that! Really, you didn’t. Or maybe you did. Maybe he is telling you the same story he told you yesterday. And last Wednesday. And three weeks ago last Thursday. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a new story, you will certainly hear about it again tomorrow. And if it is a previously disclosed gem, then you are being perfectly honest telling him that you heard about it. Regardless, he will think you are hanging on his every word.
- No way! Another classic. It conveys disbelief. It makes him think that his story is so freaking spectacular that there is no way it can possibly be true. Your child will swell with pride in the knowledge that he weaved a story so complex and intricate and emotionally wrought that he is rendered temporarily dumbfounded and can only respond with a monosyllabic “Way!”
- I can’t hear you. This is one of the most dangerous phrases in my arsenal. It can be your saving grace if your child isn’t really completely emotionally and psychologically committed to the story he is telling. A declaration of deafness can sometimes push a child to the point of simply giving up if he isn’t really devoted to his story. And come on…there is no way he can have real emotional investment is every single monotonous, mind-numbing, pedestrian saga he comes up with. Right? However—and this is the truly dangerous part—since you are not really listening to your child, it is difficult to gauge his excitement over what he is telling you. If it is a story that he feels in the deepest part of his little soul must be told, declaring that you do not hear him will only force him to raise his volume to accommodate your impairment. If you are not careful, he may very well end up sharing his story in its entirety with you and the immediate metro area. Use this phrase at your own risk.
There you have it. The secret—or at least one of the secrets—to my stellar parenting. You can thank me later for sharing these gems. If, however, one of you is awarded a mother (or father)-of-the-year award as a result of my sharing my parenting wisdom, I do expect a reasonable cut of your winnings.