If you are the type to wake up at 1:30 in the morning worrying about your daughter who is going to be graduating from high school in the spring and wondering if she is really “ready” to face the big, scary world; and if you worry primarily because she has chosen a college out of state to attend and will be 12 hours away by car, which means you can’t get to her very quickly if she needs you; and if you stress about whether or not to follow the advice of your ex-husband about not getting her a car so that she can really experience on-campus life; and if you are a natural-born worrier anyway…then you might want to invest in a husband who will sit up with you while you worry and will kill all your irrational fears with words of comfort and will tell you certain “truths” that you need to hear.

Yes, you might want to invest in a husband like that.

I have one.

I was decluttering the basket that I keep near my laptop and came across a yellow post-it note with my handwriting on it.  I have no idea when I jotted down the little reminder, or even where I found the information to jot down, but it serves as a good reminder on how to be a good listener.  I type it here on my Friday post so that it can serve as a reminder to others on how to be good listeners, and so that I can throw the yellow post-it note away, thus decreasing some of the clutter in my basket!  A two-fold purpose!  All of blogland gets to benefit from the wisdom of some random note that I wrote at some random time that I don’t even remember, and I can feel good about getting at least one piece of paper out of my basket.

How to be a good listener:

*Listen with empathy.  Don’t give advice (unless asked for it).

*Listen with understanding.  Don’t try to think up solutions.

*Ask questions.  Don’t jump to conclusions.

*Pay attention to the person.  Don’t dwell on the problem.

Okay, go practice on a loved-one.  I’m going to get back to getting ready for the boutique we are participating in this weekend.

As I sat at my crossing this morning I listened to the morning radio shows.  I am a button pusher and never stay on one particular station for very long unless the topic holds my interest.  Overwhelmingly, because of the day, the topics were Halloween related (a nice change from listening about the economy or the election, I think).  As I listened, I started to jot down random snippets of conversations that I heard.  I’m posting them here and asking, “If you were channel surfing which snippet would make you stop and listen?”

*  “If the kids are older, invest in the big candy bars and watch their eyes light up.”

*  “I always viewed Halloween as the chance to wear jammies to work.”

*  “Bring the Hanna Montana person in here.  I’m dying to see what a Hanna Montana costume looks like.”

*  “It was a really creepy place.  The kids were sleeping in the room next to our room.  Suddenly the kids came screaming into our room saying there was a lady in the mirror.”

*  “I could hear children playing, but they weren’t there.”

*  “In the distance we could see this weird, glowing, red light.”

*  “She doesn’t believe in ghosts but admits that some weird things have happened at the theater while she’s been there alone, like the times she hears footsteps on the stage but there is nobody there.”

*  “Did this make you believe in ghosts?”

*  “We are doing a ghost show, people!”

*  “You actually mentioned in your email that your father owned some land down there in Sandy that was part of an old Indian burial ground.  And, you said some weird things went on?”

*  “Dentists say the worst treat for kids is those gummy treats that stick to your teeth long after you’ve eaten them.”

*  “We think there is a little girl that haunts the third floor.”

*  “Did you ever see that movie, ‘The House on Haunted Hill?'”

*  “There was an electric type sensation going through the blinds.”

*  “That’s enough to make any ghost mad!”

*  “The building we were at was a former speakeasy and we were feeling some really negative energy.”

*  “Listen to the recording, you will hear a voice say, ‘Get out!'”

*  “The door was completely shut, and I never shut it.  And at night you could hear people walking up and down the stairs.”

*  “Those wacky vampires!  Ya gotta love ’em!”

*  “She’s our winner for the ghost investigation.”

*  “Halloween candy sales average about two billion?”

*  “Parents are being warned to be on guard this Halloween because two girls in Midway have recently been approached by two men in a truck and offered candy if they would get in.”

*  “This year my costume is going to be incredible!”

*  “What are you going as for Halloween?”

   “A naughty candy striper.”

   “Why?”

   “In all honesty?  It’s like a competition with other girls to see who is the hottest.”

So, which snippet caught your attention?

This morning we had “Books and Breakfast” at Yawlin’s school.  I got a sub for my morning crossing so that I could join my son for muffins, milk, and bananas.  The PTA hosts “Books and Breakfast” so that parents can enjoy a breakfast with their kids and read with them at the same time. 

We got our food and found a spot at one of the lunch tables in the cafeteria.  Between bites Yawlin read to me from his chosen book, “Wall-E.”  I munched on my poppy seed muffin and listened to him read.  While I listened I looked around at the others who had chosen to participate in “Books and Breakfast” too.  The room was full of moms and dads enjoying breakfast with their kids.  Some were reading to their young kids from picture books, those with older kids were listening while their kids read to them.  Some chose not to read but were laughing and talking with their kids, calling their friends over and interacting with them.

I watched a dad who was sitting across from us point to pictures of animals in a picture book and tell his son a little about each animal.  Then I noticed a dad and son sitting further down on the same bench we were sitting on.  The dad was engrossed in a thick book, reading silently, not eating.  The son had finished his muffin and banana and was sitting watching his dad read.  Every once in awhile the son would glance at a sports watch he was wearing on his wrist then look around the room.  He was clearly bored.  The book the dad was reading was obviously an adult book and would have held no interest for the son.  The dad just sat and read the entire time. 

Just before the first bell was to ring the dad looked up at the clock on the wall and said, “It’s time to go.”  The dad and son rose from the bench and I saw that there was a daughter who had been sitting on the other side of the dad.  The angle from where we sat had hidden her from me.  She too had just been sitting and waiting for her dad to finish reading.  The dad tucked his thick book under his arm and walked toward the garbage cans so that his kids could throw their plates and cups away.  No words were spoken.

Somehow this dad had missed the point of “Books and Breakfast.”  He missed out on an opportunity to enjoy the company of his kids.  He could have learned what books his kids like to read.  He could have discussed plot and ideas and characters.  He could have met some of his kids’ friends.  Or he could have simply visited with his kids and strengthened the relationship.  

Russell M. Nelson witnessed a similar incident between a husband and wife.  His account is found in the May 2006 Ensign:  

“On a recent flight, I sat behind a husband and wife. She obviously loved her husband. As she stroked the back of his neck I could see her wedding ring. She would nestle close to him and rest her head upon his shoulder, seeking his companionship.

In contrast, he seemed totally oblivious to her presence. He was focused solely upon an electronic game player. During the entire flight, his attention was riveted upon that device. Not once did he look at her, speak to her, or acknowledge her yearning for affection.

His inattention made me feel like shouting: “Open your eyes, man! Can’t you see? Pay attention! Your wife loves you! She needs you!”

I feel sad for the missed opportunities that the dad this morning and the husband in Elder Nelson’s story experienced.  And they aren’t even aware that they missed opportunities to strengthen the relationships they have with loved ones!  But, rather than judge, I reflect instead on my own life.  How many times have I been too engrossed in a tv show or in reading the newspaper to really listen to what my kids are saying to me?  How many times have they heard me mumble, “Mmmhmm,” as I’ve continued with whatever is holding my attention, instead of stopping what I am doing and really listening?  Have there been times that I haven’t given Hub the attention he might be craving?

What I witnessed this morning has served as a gentle reminder for me to not let opportunities for building on a relationship pass by.  It has reminded me to pay attention!  

When Yawlin and I finished eating he continued to read to me from “Wall-E” because he wanted to finish the chapter.  When he was done I told him that he’s a great reader.  He smiled.  We threw our trash away and hugged, then he went out onto the playground to await the first bell and I went to the parking lot to get my car.  I knew I had a topic for today’s post.

A reminder for me.  A reminder for all of us.

I got bored last night.  The job I was assigned to do seemed simple enough.  I was supposed to sit at a table in the hall of Sprucewood Elementary and recruit parents to be lunch recess volunteers.  The other tables seeking volunteers were getting more action than mine.  I guess parents are more interested in helping with the Reflections Contest or cutting up bananas for “Books and Breakfast” than they are in monitoring the playground and halls during lunch recess.  To entertain myself, I started to jot down snippets of conversations I overheard as people passed me.  One line per conversation:

“Have the kids all run at the same time.”

“You said two hours and I said thirty minutes.”

“She said, ‘Did I wake you up?'”

“I’ve never caught one that far.”

“We’re making sure life goes on.”

“But it’s outside.  It’s kinda nice.”

“You’re chasing all those kids.”  Followed by, “Well, you have six of ’em.”

“No, you know me, I’m quiet on everything.”  Followed by laughter.

“So, uh, did you have to actually haul him out?”

“She’s got a bag of carrots too.”

“It’s a big step for us.”

“I’ll do it if I can do it with my partner.”

“Did you try calling me a few weeks ago?”

“Isn’t she in her forties?”

“Have you ever been hit by a softball?  It’s not very fun.”  (This one caught my attention because I have been hit by a softball.)

“He’s his own boss.”

“You guys goin’ every Saturday?”

“He’s three times the size of Cooper!”

“He slept constantly.”

“If I’m not teaching that night I can probably help.”

“There’s a muscle that is supposed to pull it down.”

“It set him off.”

“Has there been any talk about the east west division?”

“If they fall out they’re not supposed to swim either.”

“Turn it in before my brother’s wedding.”

“I love that face!”

“Do you cut his hair?”

“I didn’t know if I was supposed to drop it off and leave it for someone to pick up.”

“It’s okay until about three quarters of the way up.”

“No!  One more?  Oh!”

“He’s a vegetarian.”

“Anyway, he fell out of the boat…”

“Years ago my daughter, Jade, told me my hair was black.”

“She’s trying to talk me into it.”

“You know, that teacher appointment thing works so awesome!”

“David missed the first day of school because he got really sick.”

“Our toenail wasn’t doing well.” 

Kinda gets the imagination going, doesn’t it?

So, that’s my post for the day.  I’m heading out the door to my daughter’s softball tournament.  I know there’s not much substance to this post, but softball calls…

Mack plopped herself down on my bed.  Lying on her stomach, she stretched out the width of it, crossed her arms in front of her, and rested her head on her crossed arms.

“Mom, my phone is dying.  Can I get some money from my account.  Dad says that when we are with him this weekend we might be able to run to WalMart and get one of those cheapie phones.”

I continued sweeping my bathroom floor.  The goal was to sweep and mop the master bathroom and then move on to vacuuming the stairs.  “I don’t know, Mack, maybe we can get to the bank later this afternoon.”

Mack nodded and asked an unrelated question.  And then another.  I finished my sweeping, but left the mop leaning against the wall.  My daughter was in the mood to talk.  Our conversation lasted for two hours.  We covered almost every topic imaginable.  We talked about our upcoming family vacation, the consequences of dishonesty, laundry, the purpose of child support payments, what some of her friends are doing this summer, some doctrinal points from our religion, and much more.  At one point Mack got emotional about some information I gave her that touched her heart.  She made a commitment to try one of my suggestions.  And the mop didn’t move from the wall.

Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, tells the story of a short conversation between a mother and her son:

Robert:  “Mom, I know that you love me very much.”

Mrs. Esposito:  “Of course I love you very much.  Did you doubt it?”

Robert:  “No, but I really know you love me because whenever I want to talk to you about something you stop whatever you are doing and listen to me.”  (pg. 83) 

Listening and talking to my daughter delayed my morning routine by two hours.  Did Mack feel more loved because I stopped what I was doing and listened to her?  I don’t know, that never came up in the conversation, but I do know that it was a conversation that I wouldn’t have missed for the world!

“Do you know what she’s done now?”

My friend didn’t even wait for me to say hello when I answered the phone.  She needed to vent.  And vent she did.  I could tell this phone call was going to last awhile so I stopped typing and leaned back in the chair and I listened.  I heard about all the frustrating and controlling actions her husband’s ex has done recently.  I listened as she described how lonely she feels at times being a stay at home mom with two young kids and very little adult interaction, how even when her husband is home he is studying for school and needs the kids to be kept away, how they have very little time to be alone as a couple.  She has no family nearby to offer her support, and calling long distance to France to vent to them is too expensive.  I heard her worries and concerns about her family and raising kids today and how so many factors work to destroy families.

I understood many of her concerns and frustrations.  I have dealt with them myself at times.  I felt that my friend mostly needed to be heard and that she would be able to solve her problems herself.  I think most people vent as a way to problem solve, that they aren’t really asking for advice, they just want their feelings validated and a forum to help them think.  Speaking aloud to a listening ear can lead to solutions.  I chose to simply ask a few questions and keep listening.

My friend calmed down as she talked and she even came up with some immediate solutions to some of the difficulties her husband’s ex has caused.  During the conversation she asked me three specific questions and that is when I shared with her how I have solved some of the same problems in my own family.  They weren’t given as advice, or even suggestions, it was simply a sharing of some things we have done.  They may or may not work for her family or her situation.  Every family and every situation is different with different personalities involved. 

*As far as dealing with a hostile ex I have learned to step back and let my husband deal with his ex-wife.  And he lets me deal with my ex-husband.  I used to walk around feeling so angry at some of the things Hub’s ex would do.  I’d let the anger build up until I felt like I would explode.  Then I would take action and it always ended up burning me in the end.  It was a painful lesson to learn, but it has worked out best for us if Hub deals with his ex alone.  He doesn’t volunteer information that he knows will make me angry, and I no longer ask.  Much peace has been the result.

*It is a top priority for us to have a date or some alone time at least once a week.  Thursday evenings are usually when we are able to go out.  Sometimes it is dinner or a movie or both.  There have been times we shopped for household items together.  Last week schedules were so crazy that all we had time to do was take a walk around the neighborhood.  We held hands and I talked about a new business opportunity my sister has presented me and Hub talked about his garden–he loves his garden!  It was nice to be walking and talking alone without any distractions.  The point is to make it a priority.  The marital relationship has to come first.  And if that relationship is strong there isn’t much a plotting ex can do to interfere.

*We make sure to have a sit-down dinner with all family members present as much as possible.  It gets more difficult with teenage work and sports schedules, but we have made sure our kids know it is important to us.  Studies have shown that families that eat regular meals together stay closer and the kids make better choices.  If the kids happen to have friends at the house when dinner time rolls around we simply invite them to join us for our meal.  I have enjoyed the mealtime conversations we have had.  Our teenagers have shared alot over mealtimes, maybe things we might have never known.

As our conversation came to a close my friend thanked me for listening and for letting her vent.  I told her she could call me anytime.  She seemed happier, and calmer.  We will get to visit in person on Thursday and I look forward to hearing how she is doing.  In the meantime, I remember her and her family in my prayers.