|With thanks for photo: My uncle Dave Irwin|
Sometimes I slip up! I remember picking Max up from preschool one day years ago, driving along in distracted silence, and about halfway home an aggrieved little voice piping up in the backseat, "Mummy, you haven't EVEN asked me about my morning!"
"OH! Sorry honey, how was your morning?"
Max took a deep breath and gave me a blow-by-blow account the rest of the way home. I wish I could say I paid attention, but I quickly went back to worrying about whether I would be paid for the latest job in time to make the car payment or school fees or whatever was stressing me out at the time. Max's voice was background noise. Later that night at story time, he had to tell me everything again because he could tell I wasn't paying attention. That made me promise myself to switch the old work brain off when my kids needed me to listen in the car!
Long rides in the car are great for listening. Without distractions like DVD players or personal games, the kids will bring up all kinds of issues which need discussing. Boring drives are good for having brilliant ideas. Sometimes the kids get talking and forget there's an adult listening, which can be pretty educational!
Eating breakfast or supper together is a lesson in polite conversation. You need to say please and thank you and everyone is supposed to be heard. Meal time is not a time for airing grievances (although you can't always prevent this) or for anything too noisy (All About Zombies is OK. Zombie Death Sound Effects or comparison of Zombie innards to the meal, not so much). As a parent at these conferences, our job is to referee the talk and teach our kids how to take part in talking and listening. And eating with your mouth closed in between.
But my favourite time for listening is bedtime. Snuggled up in the evening with a clean and snuggly child, reading a story, they often talk about the more private and emotional parts of their day. A bedtime story can inspire a deep discussion. And they know that an interesting topic of conversation might get bedtime stretched a bit later!
We're nearly too big for story time around here. Max and I are reading book three of 'The Hunger Games', but after I've read aloud until my voice gives out Max begs to be allowed to read ahead on his own. The result is that I'm reading about two chapters out of every five, and have to ask Max to fill me in on the following night. And our night-time talks have petered out, as they did with the older boys. As they become more independent, they don't seem to want to rehash every moment of their day. So I cherish our talks more when I do get them. I'll even listen to a discussion on whether a snowboard could really be used to decapitate a zombie. And when sons who are nearly as tall as I am take time off from their busy lives and hop into a hammock with me to talk and cuddle, I don't complain that I can't breathe. I listen.