By Gregory Keer
While ladling three-ingredient Chinese soup for my sons, my wife reports on the day’s events.
“Benjamin forgot to turn in his homework, but did well on the spelling test. Ari hugged Amaya till she cried. And Jacob made 11 hearts out of construction paper.” She says all of this without taking a breath before I momentarily interrupt.
“What does Jacob want in his soup?”
“Nothing but chicken and rice,” she blurts before rattling off details of her work meeting.
I listen as I serve the boys soup. Jacob makes the “ewww” expression and yells, “Who told you I wanted chicken?!”
I point at my wife, willingly snitching on her.
Jacob yells again and cries, “You always listen to Mommy! You always believe her! You think she’s pretty and you like talking to her!”
Wendy and I try not to laugh. We manage to solve the soup problem, but two truths emerge from Jacob’s statements: I do think his mommy’s pretty. And I do like talking to her.
In my first phone conversation with Wendy, I felt my usual nervousness over being able to sound smart and entertaining enough to win a date. I feared the dead spaces that sometimes happened in talks with other women. But Wendy took care of that. She filled every conversational pothole with bubbly comments about her studies in special education and blunt questions about my dating history. Despite a history of over-thinking my dialogue with girls when I was a teenager (I used to pre-script, like some kind of romantic telemarketer), I kept up with Wendy’s verbal pace.
We went on lots of dates in those early days, spending much of the time jabbering about everything from favorite amusement parks to people we knew in common. Even after parting, we’d phone each other and yak some more – for hours. When my apartment mates complained about my low voice filtering through the walls, I’d just move the receiver into the closet and talk from there. I have no idea what Wendy and I said to each other, but we never seemed to run out of words.
My love for my wife began with all that talk, and continues largely because of it. Although we’ve lived together for more than 15 years, we still burn up phone lines and cell towers. We email during the workday, which is how my columns began since we typed our thoughts about being new parents when Benjamin (now 9) was just a tot. In perhaps our most nauseating display of communication, we sometimes IM each other from different rooms in the house if we’re working late at night.
Between the two of us, Wendy hogs the greater percentage of the sentences. Much of it is because she talks at a rate the Road Runner would envy (ask anyone who’s tried to decipher one of her phone messages). But because Wendy never quite shuts up, I hear all of her feelings, her complaints, her fears, her plans, and her love. With all the syllables, there is no mystery – just honesty.
Our sons have inherited Wendy’s gift of gab. Sometimes, all the talking gets my kids in trouble. Benjamin continues a record-setting pace for getting N’s in self-control because he can’t resist conversations with friends though they might be across the room. Jacob compels preschool teachers to take turns talking to him when he’s in a particularly verbose mood. Ari keeps his daycare compatriots from sleeping because he wants to chat about getting snacks.
Most of the time, their verbal skills help them because they can hold their own in discussions with both peers and adults, especially with my motor-mouth wife. She’s so proud of their articulation, she actually stops talking to hear them! Honestly though, and to her credit, Wendy listens to her sons – and to me – as well as she speaks. She’s an equal opportunity gabber.
In our family, talk is frequent but hardly cheap. We have my wife to thank for that because the words she inspires help us to be understood and to understand others. It’s something I value in the mother of my children, even if she wishes I had focused this Mother’s Day column on why I think she’s pretty.