How to not forget the unforgettable things your kid says: How to listen so your kids talk (Pt 4)
So many parents only capture their kid’s pictures, but forget to capture their words.
Although listening is not my strong point, there’s one kind of listening that I’ve become good at – listening for the unforgettable things my kids say.
About a decade ago, a seasoned parent told me, ‘Promise me this: when you have kids, write down every wow thing they say. Most people don’t and forget 95% of them.’ (If you’re a parent and you disagree with this stat, quickly recall 5 cool things your kids have said… Not so easy, hey?)
Anyway, I promised! And I’m glad I did! As a public speaker and now a blogger, quoting my kids is always a win. Also, when my kids turn 21, they’re each going to get a gift: a coffee table-book of their own childhood quotes.
But by far the greatest benefit is that it has helped me keep my antennae out permanently for things they say. My brain’s autopilot listens and scans for these quotes. I’m the auditory version of the Nat Geo cameraman continually aiming his camera at the watering hole (or in my case, pie-hole), always alert to the rare moments. Weeks may pass with no reward… but eventually and suddenly magic happens. To be clear, most of what my kids say (99,9%) is unrecorded and soon forgotten, but at least it was heard and weighed.
Here’s my method: when they say something poignant or funny, I quickly repeat it to myself for memory. Then as soon as I can, I write it down. (I first recorded these in a journal, but now in a doc on my desktop, titled Kids Quotes).
Anyway, as I scanned through 50 or so pages of these quotes today, I noticed that there are six times when my kids are most likely to say something memorable. Of course they may say something profound at other times, but be sure to aim your auditory camera at their pie-hole at these times…
1. Listen when they chat to other little people.
Like when two little girls came over to swim, Eli eyed their 6-year-old bodies up and down, then reassured them: ‘Right now, you have little boobs, but don’t worry – when you are grown up, you will have big boobs.’
But that was nothing compared to a prior conversation with a fellow three-year-old little girl. He asked her if she had a fanny. After a confused moment of silence the little girl chirped back, ‘No, but I can whistle.’
2. Listen when they chat to new people.
I remember introducing my matriarchal gran (who has about 50 biological descendants) to Eli when he was 4: ‘Esther is your daddy’s mommy’s mommy!’ He looked her 83-year-old frame up and down and asked, ‘Shouldn’t you be in heaven already?’
Or the time I took 2-year-old Ivy on a daddy-date and I chatted to our waitress, who then greeted my date. Ivy suspiciously glared at her, then pointed at the barrister and commanded, ‘Go talk your own daddy!’
2. Listen when they have new experiences.
Returning from watching his first musical, The Sound of Music, I asked Eli how it was. ‘Dad it was so good. It was awesome. So awesome I can’t even talk. So awesome if I cut my knee open while I watched it I wouldn’t even cry – well, maybe only a minute. It was even better than the movie. And the little girl with the curls from the side of her head – she was so cute. She was awesome. Dad you won’t even believe how awesome it was. It was better than a toy. It was better than Christmas even.’ How cute in the days following to hear him singing to himself, ‘Doe a deer, a female deer… Pee, a drink with jam and bread.’
A few years back, as a reward for not wetting his bed, Eli received a whole bar of chocolate – his first ever. He gobbled it all down, and then had this less-than-philanthropic gesture for his watching little brother, ‘Fynn, come lick my fingers.’
On Fynn’s first day at preschool, he woke up super early, stood up on his bed and announced proudly: ‘I’m a Starbitch today!’ (He was about to join the Starfish class.)
Fynn’s first taste of a less-than-great take-away meal: ‘It tastes like someone has eaten it already.’
3. Listen when they tell you last night’s dream.
That same year Fynn, who knew nothing of Star Wars (honest!) had his own encounter with a kind of Darth Vadar: ‘I had a nasty dweam. I was fighting the baddies with my sword. There was two small baddies. I split them in two. But there was a big baddy. He was too stwong. He knocked evwyone down – my daddy, my mommy, Eli, even Ivy. I so scared. So I did call Ben (his older cousin). Ben came and did hit him in the ‘peanuts’ (guess what that refers to). And the baddy was dying. Then he look me and said: ‘Fynn, I am… your father.’ I was shocked!’
A year later, on the morning after our twins arrived, Fynn told me, ‘I had a dweam last night. The doctors put the twins back in my mommy’s tummy. They put a stwong glue on. But this is the funniest part … the babies just popped out again! The glue was not stwong enough!’
When I asked Eli if he had dreamt anything, he shrugged: ‘My night was so boring. I dreamed of … nothing. I just saw black, my whole night.’
4. Listen when they’re on the loo.
Once, impatient with waiting any longer in a public toilet for Fynn to finish up I urged him to push harder. ‘I can’t. It’s stuck in da chimney!’
Also last year, Fynn shouted his routine command from the loo, ‘I need my bum wiped!’
Thoroughly embracing this crap part of being a dad, I went through, sleeves rolled up, positive attitude, ready to serve. ‘No daddy, not you! You can’t wipe my bum. Only mommy can.’
I was thrown. I stood up for my rights, ‘But I always wipe your bum!’
His response assured me that his rejection of my services was not total: ‘On Toosdays and Saturdays you can wipe my bum’.
Not knowing what day it was, he was defenceless to my comeback lie: ‘Well, it’s Toosday today, my boy!’
5. Listen when they’re chatting at bedtime.
Eli and Fynn share a room. Standing at the door as they chat away before falling asleep yields amazing insights into these boys… Eli (then 4): ‘Fynn, I so glad I learned to swim with no armbands today! Tomowwow I gonna learn to fly.’
Or this one. Fynn (then 2): ‘Eli, what’s a fwend?’
Eli: ‘It’s someone who is the same size as you, and who can jump the same high as you.’
Or this conversation: Eli: ‘Fynn, I feel lonely.’
Fynn: ‘Don’t wowwy Eli. I will nebber ebber leabe you.’
6. Listen when you’re holding them up to the mirror.
Letting them see themselves in your arms tends to tease out some insightful comments.
Like Ivy’s this morning. Squeezing her, I asked Who’s your daddy? ‘You.’ And who loves you the most? ‘You.’ And who’s the best daddy in the world? ‘Richard.’ Doh!
Or that time Eli remarked that my face was ‘like a superhero’s face.’ Feeling chuffed, I asked him which superhero he had in mind. ‘Spiderman – you have lines on your face just like him.’
Sometimes the insights are more profound, like another comment by Eli to my reflection: ‘Daddy, what if God is just dreaming? And this is all just a dream? Even you and me?’
I was silenced by the boy’s depth. I got to write this one down, I thought to myself.
Enough said. Get your auditory camera set up … permanently. Determine to write down the unforgettable things your kids say. This simple intentionality could power years of loving and alert attentiveness. And when you give them that coffee table book one day, it will be the irrefutable evidence of years of listening. Which itself is proof of just how much you’ve weally, weally lubbed them.
Come back for my final post on how to listen in a way your child feels heard.
Also published on Medium.