Saturday, June 19, 2010

Roger That, Sparky!

Remember when Wendy finds Peter Pan in her room looking for his shadow? As she sews it back onto his feet, she chatters on until Peter scrunches up his face and says, “Girls talk too much!”

Well, I don’t know that this is really a gender issue, but I do know that sometimes I talk too much, especially as a parent. I overexplain, repeat instructions, and ... nag. When James was little, he would finally look at me and say in a robot voice, “Talking is over.” That used to crack me up.

What is all that too much talking about? I think it comes from anxiety, which triggers a need for control. And I tend to seek control with words. Someone once observed that my weapon of choice is a telephone. I have long been the family member or friend who writes official letters. I am a trained negotiator. I use words to achieve some desired end.

That can be a good thing, sometimes. But not so good when I use words to stifle someone else’s words, to take up too much space in the conversation, to silence opposition, to distrust someone else’s competence, to deny my own uncertainty, to win.

Recently, I was helping my foster daughter Grace write a cover letter for a job application. The job was one I encouraged her to apply for, and I did a little networking on her behalf to ensure that her application would at least get considered. I knew Grace was excited about the opportunity, and I also knew that when she gets excited or anxious, Grace can sometimes become immobilized instead of following through.

So I set out clear expectations (mine) that she would send the letter off right away. And shortly after that, I sent her a text message urging her again not to delay. I knew I was being pushy, that I was getting myself invested in what was really her business, but I couldn’t seem to let it go.

Grace would have been well within her rights to tell me at this point to back off. But instead of expressing irritation, she sent this reply text message – “Roger that, Sparky!” Sparky is Grace’s special name for me. I don’t remember when she started using it or why, but it stuck. She doesn’t use it all the time, but when she does, it carries much affection and always makes me smile.

When I got the text, I laughed and relaxed. Grace was acknowledging that she heard me loud and clear. She would follow through ... or not. But it was out of my hands. Since then, I have caught myself several times just at the edge of talking too much. I smile to myself and think, “Roger that, Sparky!” And let it go.

I think I must let go. Must fear not, must be quiet so that my children can hear the Sound of Creation and dance the dance that is in them. --Russell Hoban

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