Recently, on Geniusbook, a friend of mine groused about her teenager, who seems to be perpetually on mute. She can’t get a word out of him. The responses to her post were split pretty evenly when it came to what’s worse: verbal diarrhea or the silent treatment. Some moms complained of constant chatter and too much sharing. Others were equally frustrated with the silent treatment.
Of my four kids, I have one who never shuts it, one who rarely shuts it, one who is mostly quiet until he’s completely insane, and one quiet soul who I refer to as the hovercraft, because of her ability to move silently through the house: no footsteps, no voice, just a delicious absence of sound.
Can you guess which way I’m leaning on this topic?
In any given moment, but most commonly in the morning when I’m vertical, yet still asleep, or during dinner prep time when I wish I was, I’m flanked by Chatzilla, with her verbal stream-of-consciousness, and Talkasauras Rex, telling a “story.”
Sometimes I have to interrupt T-Rex, like after I’ve pulled out all my hair, strand-by-strand, bitten all my nails down to nubs and scratched at my ears until they resemble shredded, bloody rags dangling limply from my head.
“This story was over an hour ago. Do you realize you are still talking about the look someone gave you when they passed back the paper today in math class?”
If her stories were a U2 album, it would be called “Where the Details Have no Point.”
In fact, I’m thinking of calling the State Department and offering up her services at Guantanamo. Water-boarding is no match for this form of torture.
Trust me, I listen to the important stuff, and yes, I am qualified to make that determination. But there are times when I just have to yell “Cut!” It’s hard to break her little storytelling spirit, but I’m not doing her any favors by not pointing out to her that her ability to digress and include every painful, unnecessary detail of a situation may result in a distinct lack of listeners eventually.
Sometimes I hear myself saying things that I know my therapist would scold me for, if only I admitted them to her, which I don’t. Like, the other day, twelve minutes into a story about how she misplaced her sandwich at lunch, I interjected, “Only those details that affect the meaning of the story, I’m begging you.”
Then, there’s my son. His stories have to be pieced together like a letter that’s gone through a paper shredder.
“Mom, Mrs. ____________ is so dumb. I got an F on the assignment for no reason. I’m going to play basketball now. Bye.”
“Hang on there, Turbo. Which assignment? What were the instructions? When was it due?
Huh? I didn’t ask him any yes/no questions. Why is he saying “no?” I quickly think back to my list of queries.
“Okay, let’s break this down. When was the assignment due?”
“When did you turn it in?”
Now, I’m really confused and on the verge of tears. I just want to know what the hell happened without having to ask obvious questions, like, “what the hell happened?”
“Okay, try to tell me what happened from beginning to end, in that order. This is what is called a s-t-o-r-y. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end serves to wrap things up and leave the listener with a sense of accomplishment that they’ve learned something. Ready? Go.”
“I did tell you! I got an F!”
“You told me the ending! I need some rising action here, Chief!”
And there you have it: One child thinks a story is a chronology of every nuance of every person she’s come into contact with throughout her day, and the other thinks it’s a one-sentence expression of his current mood.
There’s actually a third category. These people begin a story in the middle, then work forward and backward until the person desperately trying to understand (me) asks the wrong question. That’s when the storyteller cops an attitude and has the nerve to say, “You’re not getting it, are you?”
But that’s another story.