Everyone knows about the laws in the universe, like gravity, that keep our feet on the ground. Equally well known is the ninth law of thermodynamics, which states that sitting on black vinyl car seats in the middle of August really hurts. And who doesn’t know about the law governing the speed of light, which in my house involves a competitive sprint to bed each night, leaving the loser responsible for turning off the lamp in the corner. Everyone knows about those laws, but it takes a seasoned parent to detect, and understand, the law that governs the functions of auditory processing in children. I call it, the Law of Don’t Everyone Talk at Once, because that’s what you find yourself saying, whether you mean it literally or sarcastically.
In scientific terms, it goes like this: “A child’s voice operates disproportionately to his parents’ need to hear it.” In laymen terms it means that when you really need the little people to pipe down, their “off switch” is jammed in the “on” position; other times, like when when you discover a game of tic-tac-toe on the dining room wall drawn in purple Sharpie, suddenly everone’s on “mute.” It happened to me just the other day…
“Who did this?” I announced, not even bothering to play the reverse psychology game of staying easy-breezy in order to flesh out the culprit. That’s when I avoid making any eye contact and casually mention, “Oh, I was just wondering, no big deal, if anyone remembers who may have accidentally put a mark over there on that wall…” In those cases, it’s always easy to spot the guilty one if you’re really paying attention because they consider fessing up for about one nano-second, before their common sense reminds them it’s a trap. In that brief moment, the eyes will lower and the mouth will droop, for just an instant. But that’s long enough! You’ve got them! On this particular day, like I said, I didn’t bother with highly evolved modes of interrogation. I was annoyed and I wanted my man. My query was met with total silence.
“Well, Don’t Everyone Answer at Once,” I snapped. Shoulders were shrugging all over the room, a room so quiet that you could hear the spider on the wall breathe a sigh of relief as the fly landed in his web with a dull “poof.” At that point I had to start grilling them individually, utilizing all of my FBI body-language training. After three nopes, I had my man (well, woman). Her answer? “I don’t remember.”
So, why is it that when you want kids to talk, they can make clams seem blabby, but when you really, really, really need a little quiet time, the voices are like hail, raining straight down on your brain? For some reason, as it gets close to dinner time, this phenomena is at its peak in my house. One by one they file up to the counter bar and simultaneously begin rapid-firing their requests:
“Can I have just ketchup and a teeny, teeny bit of mayo on my hamburger?”
“Can I have pickles on the side and no bun?”
“Can I have mustard, a lot of ketchup, and mom?? Can I have lettuce, but under the burger on the bottom bun?”
“Mom? Can I have…”
“PLEASE DON’T EVERYONE TALK AT ONCE!!” I shout. At that moment, those boys in The Deer Hunter have nothing on me. Give me the goddamn gun!! Spin that chamber and let her rip!!
Suddenly, everyone’s on mute again and the laws of the universe are working in my favor.