When I was seven years old, my family and I used to go to a restaurant called Big Wheel. I suppose the reason why it was called Big Wheel is because there was an actual large wheel in the middle of the restaurant. I always ordered spaghetti off the children’s menu which had a very distinctive taste. I think it was from a can or prepackaged mix because it didn’t taste like what my mom made; in fact it tasted very Chef Boyardeeish with some extra water and way too much oregano, but my seven year old self liked it simply because it was different.
Eating at Big Wheel took forever. Food took awhile to come out. And then after you ate it, you had to ask for the bill and wait on the waitress, etc. It was an actual process that took time.
I would attempt to use this time to literally hold my parents in captivity. I remember being kind of a stubborn kid when it came to seeking attention. I wanted to be heard at all times. Mostly, my mom dealt with this by either fake listening or listening for a good while to my ramblings and then explaining she had something important to do. But at Big Wheel, there was nowhere to go other than RIGHT AT THE TABLE with me. I was seven years old. They couldn’t leave me alone and walk away without paying the check. They also didn’t want to be the center of attention for punishing me in public. I knew this and took full advantage of this fact.
From the moment we sat down, I acted like I was in charge by dominating the conversation.
“Let me tell you about my day,” I would say.
“Hey do you remember that one time that I learned to ride a bike when I was four?
“I don’t like my teacher because she’s mean. Let me tell you why.”
“I learned today about this dinosaur who ate his own eggs. Around 1 billion years ago…”
And on. And on. And on.
I remember my dad saying, “Can’t you just give others a chance to talk?”
I acted very hurt by this statement and perhaps I was. In my seven year old mind, I could not fathom why they wouldn’t want to pay attention to ME. I mean… COME ON.
Somehow, I always managed to get my way at Big Wheel. It was a VERY strange thing indeed, because my mom was somewhat of a disciplinarian at home and church. Things were just atypical at Big Wheel and I loved that place.
While I have many positive memories of my spaghetti filled dinners at Big Wheel, there is one memory that is the most indelible of all: the dinner in which I retold an entire Roald Dahl book to my family.
I had just finished reading Roald Dahl’s chapter book, The Witches, and my mom told me we were probably going to Big Wheel for dinner. My mind instantly devised a plan to hold them captive at the table to retell the entire novel. I loved that book so much that I thought everyone needed to know about it—not just the general plot but EVERY. SINGLE.DETAIL. However, I couldn’t act too excited to go to Big Wheel or my parents might change their mind, suspecting that I would dominate the night. You see at this point, they were already on to me. They had begun associating Big Wheel with long, annoying dinners that were focused on having to fake listen to their child’s gibberish. I knew they were observing me carefully to see if I was chatty or disinterested in their attention.
I faked disinterest and they bought it. So just as we were seated at the table at Big Wheel, I put my generic four pack of crayons down on the paper placemat designed for coloring in front of me, and said to my mother, “Have you ever heard of Roald Dahl’s book, The Witches?”
I don’t remember if my mom said yes or no, but it was probably no. Just like that, I had trapped them again, and I began to retell the entire book to them from my somewhat photographic memory. At around the chapter 7 point, my dad, who had been giving my mom ARE YOU SERIOUS type looks, began to plead with me.
“Emily, can you see that there are other people at this table who want to talk about other things?”
I put my head down in sheer sadness. I wasn’t just sad. I was pissed. How dare my OWN FAMILY not give a crap about the book I read about fictional witches in England??!! Did they not understand my love for Roald Dahl?!!! My mom was a little shaken by how much delight I had from this book. She was a little worried about the characters being witches and was surprised I checked it out from my elementary school library. She had the slight inkling to hear more. She was worried I was thinking about things I shouldn’t be.
So she allowed me to continue.
I kept on talking and talking and even after the check came and we paid it, I still wasn’t done retelling the story. This was a big problem for me because I had to tell the ending. Surely they would want to hear if the the main character ever figured out how to go from being a rat to being human again, right?
I looked at my parents’ faces. They were no longer listening. They did not, in fact, care. They were in a transe like state. Allowing a child to talk without stopping for almost two hours without getting a word in edgewise was surely a PAINFUL experience for them. My mom didn’t care about the book anymore. She was staring at her purse. Christopher had his head down. No one gave a crap about my story.
I saw the pain on their faces AND YET I absolutely wanted to continue telling it anyways because I wanted to be heard. The thing is that I CARED about my story. Did I want control over them and did I enjoy holding them captive by listening to me? Absolutely. It felt powerful to my seven or eight year old self. Did I think they cared about my story? No. But they allowed me a chance to speak. They allowed me to be heard.
I started thinking of this story the other day when I was thinking about my own daughter. She loves to talk—like REALLY talk, but only to certain people. And on some level, I may not always give her my full heart and complete attention when she is talking, mostly because she has the propensity for dominating a conversation. And while I probably need to do better, there is something valuable about being a “good enough” listener. My child may not learn today that she should not dominate a conversation, because she is still a child after all. However, I can connect with her by showing her that I see her.
This is the process of bearing witness to each other. Bearing witness is simply a statement of “I SEE YOU.” It doesn’t even have to be “I agree with you,” or “I like what you’re saying.” Just simply, “I SEE YOU.” I’m realizing as I’m writing this that sometimes that is all a person needs. We may not need agreement. We may not even need genuine interest. We just need to be heard. I need to be allowed to speak. I need to communicate that I’ve got something to say. I need to believe that what I have to say is important to me and that’s ENOUGH.
Ever since Apple developed a feature on IPhones where you can send a voice message to other iPhone users, I have been using this feature religiously. What I have found happens when I do this is that I have the tendency to ramble. I have also found that my voice texts irritate some people because it forces them to listen to me talk for a few minutes instead of just getting to the point via a text. Moreover, I have discovered that my desire to use voice texts overrides my desire to not irritate others, because sometimes I need to ramble to get out what I want to say. Sometimes it is in the rambling that I discover my values, my truth, and even my core beliefs about whatever topic I’m rambling about.
My hope is that in this holiday season that we allow people we love and care about to ramble. Let them filibuster you with their stories. Especially the little people. No matter how annoying it is and how much disinterest you have, just let it be. And do the same to your loved ones—speak to them about what you love. If we stop speaking and rambling we will also stop listening. And if we stop listening, we lose our bridges to one another. And if we lose our bridges we become islands.
Be a bridge. Listen to the ramblings. They are important not because of their content but because of their existence.