What A Mother Is Thinking When The Kids Won't Shut Up

by Rachel Toalson
mother's thoughts
file404 / Shutterstock

My house hears so many words. If these walls could talk, they would never, ever stop — because my kids never, ever stop either.

I’m in the word business. I write for a living. I’m used to sorting through words all day, and I’m used to hearing a running commentary in my brain. But if one were to spend three seconds of time in my living room, one might think that being in the word business also means being in the listening-to-kids-talk-all-over-each-other business, because that’s clearly what my kids believe. Someone is always talking. Someone else is always talking over the first one. And then someone else is always talking over all that noise. I go through a system malfunction every 10 minutes.

Even though I’m in the word business, I use few of them to communicate verbally. This probably comes from my journalistic training. When I need to say something, I say it succinctly and clearly and leave it at that. None of my kids got this trait. Every one of them inherited the communication style of my husband, which is rambling and sprawling and way too many words for not enough time. When one of the boys (or the man) in my house starts talking, I could catch the first couple of sentences, go out back and mow the entire yard, and come in and not have missed a thing because everything in the middle was just thinking-out-loud. All I need from them is the intro and the conclusion, and I’m set. I know exactly what needs saying.

Now, this is not to say that I am not very, very glad that my kids enjoy talking to me, because the oldest is turning double-digits in November and I know the days of talking for hours are about to come to a close. Yes, I’m going to be begging him to talk to me soon. So I always try my best to wear a straight face, keep focused eyes trained on his face, and give the proper responses to let him know I’m listening (even if I’m not). This was also acquired in my journalistic training when I would conduct interviews with people who would tell me all about their nephew who’d been put in prison for embezzling the funds of his stepfather rather than telling me about the hand-carved chess set he’d made for the International Chess Tournament, which is why I was there (I have one of those faces, I guess. And I’m also really good at listening. Or am I?).

But when my 9-year-old starts telling me about how he traded this one Pokémon card to get another Pokémon card and how he’s really glad that his friend had this one that he’s been trying to find for a while and how he’s going to keep saving his money so that he can make sure he has enough money to have it for a new package of Pokémon cards, or maybe he’ll buy the 15-card pack…no, maybe he’ll just save up for the 100-card pack, and this is what you have to look for when you’re trading Pokémon cards, energy power, and the exact fighting power and evolution pieces, and do you want to know how many Pokémon cards he has right now? — my teeth start falling asleep.

This kid will hijack a whole afternoon if you mention the words “Lego Minecraft” or “What do you want for your birthday?” or “Poké—” (you can’t even finish that one before he’s off and running). He’ll follow you around while you’re changing the baby’s diaper and stirring soup on the stove and pouring all the milk and setting the table, back and forth, back and forth, like an extra appendage I keep tripping over. He won’t stop talking until all his brothers come crashing to the table and he can no longer talk over the voices vying for attention, and we all just give up on having a conversation until they’re actually shoveling food in their faces.

Get the 6-year-old started on talking about what he did in school today, and he’ll tell you what he did and what all his classmates did too, because he’s the kind of kid who notices everything, and you’ll never get a word in edgewise until you ask him if he wants a fruit dessert tonight — okay, then, start eating your dinner.

And then there’s the 5-year-old telling me about all the ways he could have killed himself today because he’s the daring one in the bunch, who hangs upside down off the monkey bars and tries to jump over a 15-foot fence while bouncing on the trampoline. I’d rather not hear what he has to say.

My kids get better with practice. They’re so skilled now at beginning to talk about one thing and ending up on another subject entirely that I don’t even feel bad about getting lost along the way anymore. It’s anyone’s guess how we got here.

Because one kid can use up a billion words in one “quick” answer to a question, I’ve settled into a bit of a habit lately. I’m well aware that it’s not a good habit. But it’s one that keeps me sane until we can figure out how to slow down the word vomit rocketing straight from their brains out their mouths. When one of my kids opens his mouth and I know it’s going to be a while before he closes it again, I find myself daydreaming a little. (I don’t miss much because I could say in 40 words what they say in 15,000. So I don’t feel so bad.)

My daydreams go a little something like this:

What would it be like to have a clean house?

I wonder if we could budget in a house cleaner this month. Geez, I would have to clean up the house before I even let anyone come clean it. Look at that sink. Disgusting. What kinds of pigs live here? I don’t even want to think about the bathrooms upstairs. Someone would come here and walk right back out because it would be too hard to get a house like this one clean. They wouldn’t be able to offer their money-back guarantee. It’s probably too far gone for eco-friendly supplies too. I wonder if any of my friends have a good recommendation for a good house cleaning serv—

That sounds like he’s finishing up. Time for me to pay attention.

I wish it were the weekend.

I’m so glad Mom’s taking the kids this weekend. It will be so nice to sleep without six other bodies in the house. All these words. Sheesh. Are they ever done with words? Maybe I’ll have some time to just lie on the bed and read without anybody wanting anything from me. Yeah, right. That’s a dream that will never come true. I wonder what they’ll do at Mom’s. Probably play out in the dirt piles, which means I’ll have to wash their shoes again because they’ll bring it all home and the detoxing time. I forgot about the detoxing time. I’m going to have to add that into my schedule next week. It’s always a pain getting them back on the schedule. I’m not going to think about that right now. They’ll be nightmares, but I’ll be coming off a blissful no-kids weekend.

“That sounds interesting,” I’ll say because I’ve noticed that a boy is finishing up.

Someone please send me to bed.

I’m so tired. All these words make me more tired. I have a word limit, and I reached it half an hour after they got home from school. I need a break. What time is it? Five more hours. The bed is going to feel so nice.

(At this point, my eyelids start drooping, and I require a pinch, which I fully recognize and execute efficiently enough to make my eyes water. The boys hardly ever notice their mama is almost crying during their story about how they did 98 consecutive jumps over the jump rope in PE. (That’s the gist, anyway. It’s not anywhere close to that concise.)

We should learn sign language.

We really should. I bet that would keep my attention better, and bonus, they wouldn’t use so many words because it would actually be work. This is a brilliant idea.

“I think we should learn sign language,” I say, interrupting the 5-year-old reading me an Elephant & Piggie book to demonstrate all the new words he knows now. (He’s been telling me about them for the last half hour.)

Well, you know, it’s not foolproof. I don’t always get it right. But then I just bring it around to a lesson. “Remember how you interrupted Daddy when he was trying to talk to me earlier this morning? That’s exactly how it feels. I was just trying to show you.”

Works every time.