“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes?” my 22-year-old asks. “I have a break at work and called to see if you ever taught 1984 by Orwell. Do you think the colors in the book are symbolic?”
“I’m not sure; I haven’t read the book for years.”
“You should read it again so we can discuss it. I never read it in school and feel like it’s an important work of literature I should have in my repertoire.¨
Though 1984 is not on my must-read list, I download it on Kindle because I love the idea of a book club with my adult son. I look forward to his calls both for the intellectual challenge and because I enjoy hearing his voice.
“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes? I really want you to read Atlas Shrugged with me.” When he got married, I assumed that our 20-minute sessions would come to a close. But they didn’t, and I was afraid his new wife would take offense to him calling me on his break. So I asked her.
“Are you kidding?” she replied, “You are saving me from having to read over a thousand pages of Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy. Believe me, I’ve heard hours of it second hand, and I don’t need an extra 20 minutes.” But I did. The 20 minutes were mine. I have to admit that I read the CliffsNotes and faked it. He knew but still called.
Books aren’t the only thing we discuss on his 20-minute breaks.
“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes? Did you watch the presidential debate last night?”
I knew he’d call so I’m prepared: I watched and took notes!
“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes? I think the pastor took this verse out of context in the sermon yesterday, and I want to discuss it with you.”
Oh goody! These are my favorites.
“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes? I think I came up with a really good set for my stand up comedy, and I need to see if the humor is too intelligent for the average person.”
Is he trying it out on me because I’m his mom and I give honest feedback, or because I’m of average intelligence? I don’t really care, I’m going to laugh for 20 minutes as I google his vocabulary words without him knowing it.
“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes? I’m developing a D & D campaign and could really use your help.” I listen intently as he describes the secret passageway of a tomb that can only be opened by answering a riddle. “Mom. Are you still there? How is the secret door opened?”
“Oh, oh, I know this! I know this!” I really do know the answer, because I knew he’d ask. He’s been testing me to see if I’m listening for as long as I can remember.
Being gifted makes him obsessed with learning. Being ADHD makes him obsessively talk about what he’s learning. Being observant makes him realize I’m not really listening to what he’s obsessing over.
When he was in preschool, he’d follow behind me as I did dishes. “Did you know sea turtles only poop every three days? Did you know that slugs have noses? Did you know elephants are the only animals that can’t jump? Did you know that koalas …”
In early elementary, it was Yu-gi-oh, “Yugi saved Hiroto Honda from Ushio, who is the biggest bully.” I didn’t watch the show, play the game, or know who any of these characters were. Truth be told, I really didn’t care. So I half listened.” That’s nice.” “How interesting.” The other half of my brain was trying to figure out if I’d accidentally scheduled the dentist on the first day of baseball practice. “Mom! Mom! You aren’t really listening. What was the name of the bully?” He caught me. I had no idea. He retold me about Ushio and how he bullied Hiroto Honda. He graciously allowed me to retake the test, and I am happy to say I scored a C+ on Yu-gi-oh characters.
At the wise old age of seven, my son began training me to listen. His obsessions may have changed over the years, but his desire to connect with me hasn’t. I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to continue building our relationship, one 20-minute brick at a time.
My ability to listen didn’t develop in “Six Easy Steps to Active Listening,” but rather in fourteen years of my son’s ongoing question, “What did I just tell you?” I have no doubt our coffee break conversations happen because my son taught me that listening wasn’t about the subject being discussed, but rather about loving the person who is speaking.
“Hey Mom, do you have 20 minutes? I need you to watch the second to the last episode of BoJack Horseman. It’s about existentialism, and I’ll call you on my drive home to discuss it. I know you don’t watch the show, so let me catch you up on what happens before this episode.”
I’d better wrap up this essay because I have a deadline to meet. I need to watch Season 6, Episode 15, “The View From Halfway Down,¨ so I can talk about the meaning of life with my son when he calls.
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Joyce Pinero credits all 5 of her children, ages 9 – 32, for teaching her to listen. Currently, her ears are tuned into her nine grandkids, all eight and under, who enchant her with stories of laughing squirrels and dandelion wishes. She lives in North Texas with her husband, parents, and nine-year-old daughter. Most mornings you’ll find her with feet propped and dog in lap as she types on her chrome book. Follow her at her blog, where she writes about finding God in parenting a child with mental health disorders.