I believe I know how conversation works; I’m led to believe that if I convey meaning through the medium of speech, people will acknowledge their understanding by replying accordingly.
I know this, and yet the system often becomes flawed when I speak to my husband and children because sometimes I speak and get no response whatsoever, as though the words have never left my mouth and I find myself wondering if I did indeed speak at all.
I usually test the theory by throwing the word, ‘chocolate’ into conversation with my children or ‘sex’ into conversation with my husband. If they still don’t react, I know they genuinely haven’t heard me and vouch to speak louder next time. If they do, I know that they are simply suffering from the affliction of ‘selective hearing.’
Sometimes though, they DO respond and I get excited…but then it usually transpires that they heard something COMPLETELY different to what I actually said.
Yesterday morning, for example, I thought I’d said to our seven-year old, ‘Get your uniform on, please.’ What did he hear? ’Prance about naked for ten minutes, sit next to the radiator warming yourself and then get half-dressed and start playing with your Lego.’ Weird.
I tried again with our nearly four-year old, because he learns at pre-school that he must have ‘good listening ears.’ Turns out, he doesn’t. The words I formulated in my head were, ’Clean your teeth please.’
Apparently though, what I’d ACTUALLY said was, ‘Walk around the house holding your toothbrush aloft. Smear it on your clean uniform if you want, I won’t mind because I LOVE washing. Then, when we have thirty seconds left before we have to leave the house, thrust your toothbrush at me and ask me to clean them and I won’t mind in the least.’ How bizarre. Especially because the sentence I’d thought of was SO much shorter than his version.
Fair enough, I thought, but my two-year old will listen because he’s at a crucial stage of language acquisition and is eager to add more words to his expanding vocabulary. And he is…but he also wants his own way. Immediately. So when I asked him to ‘Just hold on a minute’, to get him dressed, his outrage at being made to wait leads me to think I said, ‘OF COURSE I will drop everything, this second, to attend to your every need. Why would I need breakfast? What a frivolous and selfish idea. Nope, I don’t need to have a wee, either, a urine infection is a small price to pay for your happiness.’
In a last bid attempt to make myself heard and understood I shouted downstairs to my husband, ‘Please will you find Josh’s shoes?’ but wasn’t surprised at all when he asked me to repeat myself and then proceeded to fire a series of questions upstairs about where the shoes might be rather than just physically looking for them.
Why was I not surprised? Because after fourteen blissful years with my husband, I know two things about him.
Firstly, he’s crap at looking for things (see Male Planet).
Secondly, I know that at best I can only expect my husband to get the gist of what I’m saying. My theory for this is because when my mouth starts to move he imagines he hears, ‘Let’s throw caution to the wind and have mad, passionate sex this minute. Take me, take me now, Big Boy, right here on the stairs. Children, avert your eyes for the next three minutes.’
Then, when he comes round from his reverie and I’m standing looking at him expectantly, he realises he doesn’t know what I said at all, so he’s going to have to bluff it.
There are certain advantages to communication of the non-verbal kind, however, because one look at my face tells him that whatever else I said when he zoned me out, it definitely wasn’t that.