Buddha’s Ears

>> Friday, August 3, 2007

It’s funny to watch people try really hard to understand what small children are saying. Their intentions are honorable, but as they listen, they lean closer and closer, their faces contort into a question mark, and they desperately try to interpret the burbles and buzzes and pops:

“You want to eat Barbados?”

“No!” shouts the child. (The struggling adult understand this quite clearly.)

“Barbados! Barbados!” The small person insists. I mean, Duh!

Not until the small person points vigorously at a picture of potatoes she found in some obscure magazine does the adult finally understand what she means.

“Yes, of course! Potatoes!” the adult thinks with relief, until...

“Uh, I’m sorry, but we don’t have any potatoes.” Crying ensues.

However, I’ve learned that nearly half of the verbal misunderstandings between my daughters and I are not due to poor speaking skills on their part, but to poor listening skills on mine. Quite simply, I often can’t believe what I’ve heard... in fact, I refuse to believe it. For example:

“Mommy, when someone gives you a gun for Christmas, then what?”

“When someone gives you gum for Christmas? I don’t know -- you chew it?”

“No, a gun.”

Yep, I’d heard it right the first time. I knew I’d heard it right the first time, but I just didn’t want to hear it. I thought, I’ll throw out something that rhymes with gun, because I certainly don’t want her asking me about guns first thing in the morning, and it disturbs me that this is the first thought on her brain, and wouldn’t it be much nicer if she said ‘gum’, so I’ll pretend that’s what she said... See?

But clear communication is a high priority for small people, and they never let me off the hook when I try to change what they’ve said, either consciously or otherwise.

I’ve read a few Zen books, and I’m intrigued with the concept of awareness and being open and truly listening. Over the years I’ve tried to become a better to listener; to reduce my inner dialog that drowns out another’s voice; to be fully present when someone is speaking.

But, dang, is that hard.

There’s the fear that if I spend all my time listening to other people, how will I know what to say when they stop talking? I’m afraid I’ll freeze or panic or say something stupid. Unfortunately, plenty of experience has added weight to this fear. So I silently prepare my responses while they speak so I won’t be caught with my mental pants down, so-to-speak.

But in the end, that’s not very satisfying. I discovered I was missing something important, like true connection with others that only comes from listening to them. So, I determined to be a better listener with the people closest to me. For starters: my mother, my husband, and my daughters.

“Drink the vinegar all up!”

I’m on the telephone, in the living room, when Elizabeth comes up to me and loudly makes this demand. My mother is on the phone, so I’m trying to “listen” to both of them at the same time. My brain is about to short-circuit.

“Hold on, Mom...” I turn to Lizzy, “What?

“Drink the vinegar all up!”

Yep, I’d heard that right the first time, too.

Without meaning to, my daughters have become tiny little Zen masters, teaching me daily how to listen without expectations and without any notion of pre-conceived logic. If I slip back into listening with expectations, they are ready to trip me and remind me to listen more openly. In short, they are giving me Buddha ears.

“I wanna sell my shadow.”

“You’ll be able to see it when the sun comes out.”

“No, sell my shadow!”

Of course, thank you. I heard see instead of sell. I expected see because I was attached to some silly notion of logic. In short, I forgot to put on my Buddha ears.

I’m reminded of Henry Hill in Goodfellas. (Get ready, since this is probably the only comparison I can reasonably make between myself and Henry Hill, aside from the fact that we’re both human, parents, and live on Earth.) Henry is about to drive a young drug-runner to the airport to... er, run drugs... when she tells him she can’t get on the plane because she needs her lucky hat.

“A hat?”

A hat.

He didn’t believe her at first, either. And why should he? They’re about to make a risky drug run, where I assume everything has been very well timed and pre-planned, when she introduces this glitch. Her request doesn’t make logical sense -- just like selling shadows and drinking vinegar while I’m on the telephone.

I guess some drug-runners are toddlers in disguise. Apparently God put them on this earth to make us better listeners, and for that we should be grateful. I am getting better. The other day Elizabeth comes up to me and says, "You're a nose." Without skipping a beat, I start jogging in place. "Oh yea," I say. "Now I'm a runny nose -- get it?!"

See... Buddha ears.

So the next time you are talking to a little person and she proudly declares, “I ate poo-poo for lunch,” just smile, put on your Buddha ears, and say,

“Well, was it any good?”


A quick update...

This morning, Lizzy crawls into our bed. The first thing she says to me is this:

"Mommy, witches cut off a girl's big vagina, right?"

I'm fresh from my Buddha Ears essay, and I know what I heard, but I can't believe what I heard so I ask her to repeat it because...damn!

Yep, I'd heard correctly. Apparently, a boy in her class told her that girls are born with penises (i.e. big vaginas) and that witches cut them off and that's how girls become girls.

Well, that explains everything. Some mornings my Buddha ears could use a pair of earplugs...

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