Turns out, I talk too much. I simply Can. Not. Keep. My. Mouth. Closed. I should have been in the RUN-DMC video back in the day.
Last week I saw my friend Lilly exiting our church. She had attended the early service and I was heading into the later one. Lilly had just returned from a three month sabbatical and had used her time to travel all over the world. She started in Canada and after a few stops in the States she wandered around all the places in Europe I’ve always intended to visit. I stalked her on facebook like any good girlfriend would do, and when I saw her in all of her beaming glory walking down the front steps of the church I shouted “Liiiiiiiiilllllllllllyyyyyyyyy!” and wrapped her in a big hug. And then I started talking. And I couldn’t stop. I prattled on and on about myself and my kids and all that we’d done all summer and the whole time Lilly was just standing there beaming and smiling and nodding and then I realized I was now late to church and I laughed – ha ha, ha, gotta run! – and I dashed into the service. That’s when it dawned on me that this girl, whom I had missed so much, hadn’t had a chance to say one tiny thing about her amazing, probably-life-changing adventure. Because I talk too much; I nevvah shut up!
Anne Lamott refers to an acronym for mothers-in-law or Grandmothers called W.A.I.T, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” When I heard her explain it, I immediately embraced it in theory. (Am obviously still trying to shift it to practice.) It at once acknowledges that I have so much to offer and all of it is something almost no one wants to hear. So, Anne Lamott just keeps quiet with all her grandmotherly advice. I am supposed to be asking myself what the purpose of my words are, and whether they want to be heard by anyone in the room. If not, I am practicing thinking those words instead of saying them. You can probably guess how very challenged I am by this idea.
I was out for crepes with my daughter and her friend, Angie.
Me: Angie, how do you get to your new school in the mornings?
Angie: Takes a bite of crepe and motions to me that she’ll answer as soon as she swallows.
Me, not missing a beat: Do you take the bus every day? I wonder which bus goes from your house to the Haight? I bet it’s two buses.
Angie: Still chewing, nods and holds up two fingers.
Me: Oh, so it is two buses. How long does it take you? Do you take the bus every single day? Oh wait, did you mean you take it two days each week?
Angie: Finally, she swallows, and says: I take the bus on Mondays, yes it’s two buses, and my mom drives me two days and I ride with Samantha the other two days. Then she takes another bite.
Me: Why do you take the bus on Mondays? Wait, Samantha doesn’t live near you, how do you car pool with her? Oh… I remember her father lives near you and Samantha must stay with him two days a week.
Angie: Still chewing, just stares at me.
Me: Just nod – is that why you carpool with Samantha? And what is this about Mondays? Why can’t your Mom drive you on that day? Does she take a class that morning or does she work on Mondays?
At this point my own daughter can take no more and rescues her friend. “Mom, you are interrogating her!” And that’s the first moment I realize I’ve been grilling this poor child. Honestly, I thought I was just making polite conversation.
Yesterday I was catching up with my long time girl friend, Sally, whom I probably hadn’t seen in over a year. She’d invited me to come to Marin for a gentle hike, so I laced up my running shoes and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. After the initial hugs and hellos we set off through her neighborhood and headed west onto a dirt trail. Just as we had begun climbing the steep, apparently all-uphill route that was shockingly difficult, Sally casually asked, “So, how is your business going?” Suffice it to say that things are happening in my business and I am feeling very enthusiastic about the growth it’s experiencing. Booming might be overstating it a bit, but I could still easily talk non-stop for two hours about it. But, at that exact moment I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and was very aware that my heart was slamming itself into the wall of my chest and my lungs were threatening to revolt. Shy of sending myself into full cardiac arrest, all I could squeak out was, “It’s going very well, thanks for asking,” and then I sucked in as much oxygen as possible to make up for the herculean effort of speaking. And that is the only reason I didn’t bore poor Sally with Every. Single. Detail. right there on the trail. Unfortunately, I think I made up for it later at her kitchen table when she was re-hydrating me after sweating all over the Marin headlands.
Last month I got that call. You know the one every Mother of a teenager is supposed to prepare herself to get. “Mom, my friend is in trouble and we need to go pick her up.” On the way there, I got coached. “Don’t ask anything about what happened or why she is coming over. Just make casual conversation like this is normal. “ So I acted like this was exactly what I was expecting at 11pm on my Saturday evening.
Hello, sweetie. So glad you could come over and I’ve been looking forward to meeting you too. Have you had dinner? No? Well, let me heat up some casserole I happen to have in the fridge and here’s some sliced baguette to go with it. Let me go make up the spare bed for you — you girls have fun.” Basically, I was like a super-star mom… until the next morning. Once the morning flurry was over and the house was finally empty, my daughter and I lay down trying to catch our breaths. I oh-so-casually let the question roll off my tongue before I could snatch it back. “So…. did you ever figure out what was happening that made her call us for help?” Off came the sleep mask, and the tone got cold, “Mom, you promised you’d be that Mom, the one anyone could call for any reason, no questions asked. This is not our story; it’s hers. Leave it alone.” Once again, I realized how much trouble I have just keeping a lid on it.
I hope my daughter will trust me again the next time someone needs help. I will try my best not to morph into the interrogator or insert myself too much. I really do want to be that Mom, because I think so many of these kids need a judgment-free, grace-filled zone to enter when they get in over their heads. But, boy, do I have trouble keeping my chatty, opinion-filled, question-driven self in check.
By the way, Lilly is coming over for iced tea next Monday. Because we are not planning on hiking together, I’ve asked her to bring some duct tape to keep me quiet.
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