Listening is probably the most important diagnostic tool I have for my job as a mom.
From the very earliest days of motherhood, when I’d bend low over the side of the bassinet to check to my newborn’s bird-rapid breathing, or when I amazed myself by quickly learning the difference between a cry for hunger and a cry for tiredness, I’ve done a lot of concentrated listening.
That quiet that suddenly becomes ominous when you realize your toddler should be making more noise than she is, and that the last time you saw her she was carrying a bottle of paint. The sound of a pan clattering to the floor and then the hyper alertness as you anxiously wait to hear whether the next sound is going to be a scream of pain or a “Don’t worry, mom, just dropped the lid!” The coughing from behind the bedroom door as you sit in the next room and time intervals, deciding whether to call the doctor. The catch in a daughter’s voice that tells you she is trying very hard not to cry.
Moms listen all the time. We barely know we’re doing it. If we were cartoon characters, our ears would be twice the size of our heads.
Of course, my kids might beg to differ. When they come sit on my bed at 9:30 pm, finally ready to talk about their day at exactly the time my brain is in shut down mode, they get annoyed because they think I’m not listening. Did you even hear what I just said? I am the first to admit that at a certain point, the recounting of the ballet class drama or the exasperating discussion with the teacher starts to go a little white-noise on me, and I get fuzzy on the details. I can only imagine what my mother had to put up with from me, the kid who never once won the quarter her older brother and sister promised her if she could just shut up for five minutes.
But even when I’m zoning out, the discordant note comes through and snaps me to attention. WHAT did you just say happened after class? WHO did you say got in trouble? WHERE did your friends go without you? All those years of listening have made me efficient. I may not get every detail, and I’m sure that annoys my daughters. But I know the difference between listening and hearing. My goal is to pay attention to what they need me to hear.
Which bring me to Listen To Your Mother, the show that “Gives Mother’s Day a Microphone” and in which I’ll be performing a week from Sunday, at Kanbar Auditorium in the San Francisco JCC. At the first read-through last month, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the roomful of fourteen fellow cast members, near strangers who I mostly knew from Twitter avatars—they’re much taller in person. (And of course my friend Tarja from the Flying Chalupa, everyone’s favorite Fleetwood Mac fan.)
When I stumbled out two hours later, my mascara in tear tracks down my cheeks, the thing I couldn’t get over was the diverse range of stories, some poignant, some wildly funny, that all portrayed a single emotion: love. Messy, imperfect, all-encompassing maternal love. We walked into the room strangers, and walked out sisters-in-arms. All of us trying—sometimes failing, but always trying—to hear what our kids and our moms and our friends need from us.
The instant camaraderie was evident in last week’s second run through, when our directors could barely get us to shut up to start the rehearsal. This time around, we got through with fewer tears, more polished beats, better eye contact. And on Mother’s Day, May 12th at 7 pm, we’re gathering one last time to tell our stories, clear and loud, quirky and proud. Besides the San Francisco show there are LTYM shows in 23 other cities this year; one of them is bound to be near you so check it out.
I hope you’ll come out to hear what we have to say.
Here’s the founder of the Listen To Your Mother phenomenon, my wonderful friend Ann Imig, telling what it’s all about…