One of the reasons my son is currently undergoing an assessment for autism is that he has trouble engaging with others. He'll be playing with his train or flicking a light switch on and off (and on and off) and he won't realise that he's expected to stop and pay attention. When we need to have his focus we cup a hand around our ear and sing, 'lis-ten!' He smiles and most of the time he tunes in. The thing is sometimes I feel like doing that with the adults around me and I'm sure people find themselves wanting to do it with me. I've always loved that saying, most people aren't really listening - they're just waiting for their opportunity to speak and although I don't do that, I will admit I'm multitasking as you speak. I'm analysing what you're saying, I'm looking for the meaning behind the message, I'm trying to formulate a kind way to say, 'Giiiiirl, you got problems.' I've always been verbose, I've always had slightly too much to say. As a child I think this served me I was labelled clever, confident and mature - attributes we seem happy to assign to kids that talk to darn much. It also got me in trouble - school report after school report would state that I would do so much better if I just listened more. I remember starting each school day thinking, I just won't talk today and failing before first break. I'm a grown up now though, I have a mortgage and self control. Surely for one week I can listen more? So this week's mission was to sit tight, open my ears and close my mouth; only offer up an opinion if one is requested and accept that I need to listen.
It immediately becomes obvious that old habits die hard. I can't help but launch on people as soon as I see them, particularly after a day alone with a toddler - the first adult I see it feels like the words that have built up all day have to come out. After every bout of verbal diarrhea I feel a bit annoyed with myself. I write on my hand LISTEN in biro and it works for a while but the thing about personal hygiene is that biro is not a very efficient recording system, and as the letters fade so does my resolve.
I decide to start small and spend a day really listening to Roscoe, not ignoring his requests as the nonsense (although they mostly are). It's actually quite lovely. He has very strong opinions on which way we should walk in town and prefers to go 'down, down, down' hills rather than up, which would be fine if we didn't live at the top of a hill. After a lovely but pointless stroll we get the bus home. I feel like he tries to communicate with me more, I guess because he has more faith I will listen. He gleefully tells me his 'chips are finished' and 'daddy's there' and rather than dismiss him I give him a high five, daddy is indeed there you wonderful boy.
I take my new found skill to work. I work with supporting people so we have to communicate a lot to do the job properly. We have a team meeting every morning and I jump in enthusiastically with my insights, 'You're so loud.' says a colleague unprompted and she actually winces. Think it's safe to say I'm failing at my mission then. Her comment it quite the slap in the face and for the rest of my shift I concentrate really hard and I think I'm successful but a strange thing happens, people start expressing concern. I'm repeatedly asked if I'm okay, what's wrong with me, why I'm not my usual self. I tell them I am my usual self I'm just trying to improve myself and listen more. This comment is generally met with some variation of stink face. I see from this I have lost my way, my missions are about acceptance not shoehorning myself into some acceptable cookie cut version of me and so I give up. I shout, I laugh, I banter. I repeatedly do my snorty laugh and offer over-complicated stories with over the top hand gestures but in between I keep listening. I tune into a rap song that comes on the radio and realise the lyrics that I assumed were misogynistic are actually quite uplifting; I eavesdrop on strangers on the train and learn that the sort of guy you would assume is loving life is actually riddled with insecurities; I lay still in the morning and listen to the song of the blackbirds or the pigeons or whatever they are. I find that I can accept the loudmouth that I am and still listen - who knew I was so multifaceted.