It was Thursday, otherwise known as the day we wash the bed linens. Ha ha, just kidding. It was totally a wait-a-minute-I-think-it’s-been-several-weeks-since-I-washed-the-sheets kind of day. Quickly, I called out to enlist some help.
“Okay, guys, I’m doing sheets today. Take the sheets off of your beds and throw them in the laundry area so I can wash them.”
“Okay, Mom,” yells my daughter, the agreeable child, the one who never hides when she hears my voice take on that tone that suggests I’m about to ask for something other than a response to “Who wants ice cream?”
“Do you want the thin pink fluffy thing?”
“Do you mean the blanket?”
“Yes. Do you want the blanket?”
“No. Just the sheets and your pillowcases.”
“Do you want the big fluffy thing?”
“The big fluffy thing on top of my bed.”
“Do you mean the comforter?” I make a mental note to work on vocabulary with my daughter before the school year starts in the fall.
"Yeah. The comfo'ter."
“No. Just the sheets. The pink sheets. The fitted sheet with the elastic around it that you sleep on, the flat sheet that you cover with, and your two pillowcases.” There. That should do it.
I go into my room to strip my bed. A minute later, I see her sheets on the floor in front of the washer, plus the mattress pad. My shoulders slump. Any other laundress worth her weight in dryer sheets would shrug and take this as an opportunity to wash the mattress pad along with the other bed linens. But since I am a slight OCD mother with a teach-‘em-at-every-opportunity mentality, I called my daughter over to explain to her – again – the various pieces of a bed’s make-up, and to gently admonish her for not listening.
Being overlooked is one of the most annoying daily issues that people face. We all want to be seen and heard and ultimately understood. This makes us see worth in ourselves, allows us to feel loved and respected. It helps us get up in the morning,
It’s bad enough when strangers don’t acknowledge us, but when our loved ones ignore us, it’s enough to send the most confident person spinning into a “what’s wrong with me?” pity party.
My husband has this habit that I find mildly problematic – he asks for confirmation when speaking. His use of the question “Right?” after a statement has irritated me to the point at which I respond “I don’t know, you’re telling the story” almost every time. After regaling me with a tale from the office after a particularly dramatic day of work, he punctuated his point with “Right?” after which I gave him my usual “I don’t know, jeez, man, get to the punchline already.”
Exasperated, he sputtered, “Well, you never respond! I never know if you’re listening, or not! If you would give me a nod, an ‘uh-huh,’ ANYTHING, then I wouldn’t have to ask for your agreement after every sentence!”
His complaint stung. For years I harped on his lack of response when I wanted to talk; now I was doing the same to him? I couldn’t believe that I had fallen so far from perfection in our relationship; surely his habits were rubbing off on me?
Not likely. I am not a good listener. The details of life, the names of faces I met once, the birthdays and anniversaries that my friends and families celebrate, the family deaths that have occurred, sick relatives and friends, upcoming surgeries, all those things go in and out of my brain because I’m not really listening. I have failed to find important the things that others do, because when my friend talks about her sick mother I’m thinking about how I love her shirt, or when my husband tells me about his next work trip, I’m thinking about a second glass of wine.
I’ve failed to understand them.
I’m a believer in the Golden Rule, the “treat others as you want to be treated” saying that everyone learns when they are small. It is so simple, yet we fall so short of it each day. Our selfish world allows for seven billion individual worlds, each one of us being concerned with only ourselves. The message is clear: if you want to be listened to and understood, then you must listen to and understand others. It might mean that you ask someone to repeat themselves. It might mean that you make the extra effort to reach out to another if it’s not your natural impulse. Introverted people may have to try extra hard to find interest in others. Extroverts may have to exercise more effort into focusing and to keep from being distracted.
Whichever way you turn, we all have to try harder to look at the person who is talking to us, listen to what they have to say, and understand what they are saying and where they are coming from. We can do this with our children and spouses, friends and family members and strangers alike. We all reap the benefits of listening better and understanding each other. The favor will be returned to us.
Even if it is just that your ten-year-old now knows the difference between a sheet and a mattress pad. A win is a win.