April 27, 2012

Every morning, every day, I hear it. Miss M.’s plea.

“D.? Hey, D.?”

No answer.

She tries again, louder this time, “D? Hey! D?”


“D. D.! D., will you listen to  me!” By now, M.’s voice wavers, on the edge of tears.

D. isn’t more than a foot away from her sister, but there is no acknowledgement, no answer to her sister’s plea for attention.

I am in the next room, toasting waffles, listening to the whole exchange, and I know that M.’s crying in earnest now. Suddenly I can’t stand it.

“D.!” I holler, in my loudest, strictest, I’m-going-to-beat-you voice.*

D. snaps to attention. “Huh?” she says, as if hearing her name for the first time.

“Your. Sister. Is. Talking. To. You. It’s rude not to answer.”

“Oh. What, Meems?” D. asks, not unkindly, but there’s a little edge there–she’s not thrilled at being interrupted.

Finally, M. gets her say. Gets to say the words she wants her sister to hear.


Most of the time, I do not think this daily scenario is due to cruelty on D.’s part. In the  morning, Miss D. has to twirl. It’s her ADHD  “thing”–her habit that she does overandoverandover when her energy is uncontainable and overwhelming.  She twirls after school, too, but morning twirling is particularly frenetic.

Twirling: the act of taking a straight object, such as a pen or a pencil and twirling it in the air maniacally–a magic wand on steroids. While she twirls, she thunders and gallops around the room, lost in her own ideas. Locked in whatever movie is playing in her mind, and it’s almost impossible to break through.

Almost impossible.

A high-decible Mama screech can get through. But not much else.

Miss D. doesn’t do it on purpose and is hardly aware that she’s doing it, but at some level she is aware, because she’s asked me before if I think her twirling is “weird.”

“No, honey,” I say. “It’s just your ‘thing.’ Everyone has habits or little quirks about them. Like the way I wiggle my right foot when I’m on the computer.”


But the thing is, my foot wiggling doesn’t hurt my sister’s feelings. And I’ll be honest–twirling is annoying as heck because everyone is affected.  All morning, I’m repeating, “D., it’s time to put your shoes on,” or “D. it’s time to brush your teeth,” and it takes at least three times before she responds.  Sometimes I do wonder if she does it on purpose–either because she doesn’t want to stop what she’s doing or because she can’t help it, I don’t know–but it can infuriate and, in her sister’s case, wound.

Nobody wants D.’s attention more desperately than her sister, so twirling affects her differently. I want D.’s attention so I can get the morning routine going–change of clothes, homework checked, breakfast consumed, teeth brushed, hair combed, backpack in order, shoes on.  I want her attention to get shit done.  And when she ignores me like that, it’s incredibly frustrating.

But Miss M. wants D.’s attention in order to be heard. To communicate, to interact emotionally, to share a thought or feeling that’s important to her. And when D. ignores M. when she’s trying to express herself, it chips at the soul.  I can see it in M.’s eyes, in her face–a face that’s saying, “I am here! I have good and  important things to say! ”

Miss M. reminds me every day that listening is important. To try to say something and not be heard–it diminishes.  M. is a constant reminder to me of my own faults–the times when the girls are chattering and I just “check out.”  It’s impossible to be present and to listen and to attend to needs all the time, but what my girls have taught  me is that sometimes, you have to stop and listen. Sometimes even when you are butt-deep in laundry and dinner and the toilet isn’t working. And that is my Achilles heel.  Because kids are smart. They know if you’re really listening or if you’re just faking it, and I fake it a lot.


I’m trying to fake it less because of M. We sometimes walk around the  neighborhood, and when we talk about it, she does understand that D. has a condition that makes it hard to listen, hard to be still. She understands, but the daily grind of it still stings. D. is a hurricane, a loud force of nature, and nobody can ignore her words. But my little M. is changing, and growing and realizing that maybe her words count, too. It’s now my job to slow down and assure her that yes, she has something to say. And I want to hear every word, little one.

*I know I’ve had two out of five posts with a reference to beating my children, but I promise, I don’t! :)

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Arnebya April 27, 2012 at 6:53 am

It’s hard not to check out sometimes, especially amid an end of day rush to get dinner going, why’re we out of flour, why didn’t I know we were out of flour, how am I gonna make this without flour in between her and then this and then this and she said this and he did this and guess what else because if you miss the guess what else you’re caught, you weren’t listening and that shit is crushing.

I try. I do try to be more present, to just stop. Stop what I’m doing and listen to them because someday, it’s going to be such a big thing said that might fly by me and I damn sure don’t want to miss it. You’re doing well, bolstering M., letting her know her words have a place and that you are indeed listening. Really, what else can we do except try to fake less?


Kelly April 27, 2012 at 8:50 am

Oh yes. This. This is us, every day. But I know Javi hears Bella. I see it in the smirk on his face when I make him respond to her. If he (and she?) knew it pushed their little sisters closer to mom, would they suddenly be able to hear more quickly?


BigLittleWolf April 27, 2012 at 8:53 am

As usual, I’m whisked through your writing so smoothly, Dana, I’m disappointed to find myself at the end of the read.

As for the twirling and the specialness of our children, I suppose we do what we have to do to explain what we know to them, to pave the way for them to manage more easily, and to integrate what they need into our routines. But it’s harder, yes, when a sibling is affected. They don’t understand. They want to be heard. They want the approval.

I imagine things will continue to evolve and that includes both girls and how they behave and how they relate to each other. We hope for our kids the kind of sibling relationships some of us had – good ones – and we hope for them not to experience the sibling relationships that others of us (myself included) carry in the shadows.


Not a Perfect Mom April 27, 2012 at 9:45 am

at least she has a reason….my kids ignore each other to the point of tears just to piss each other off…sigh…
but at least your mom screech breaks through…


Jody April 27, 2012 at 9:47 am

Could the Misses M and D negotiate letting D twirl in peace at Twirling Time with the understanding that there will also be Listening to Miss M time after?

I get through those I-am-doing-ten-things-at-once-and cannot-listen-right-this-second times by saying, “What you are saying is important, and I want to hear it. Right now I cannot listen to you properly. Please wait ten minutes so that I can give you my full attention.” And then I do. Sit down and look into their eyes and hold their hands and LISTEN.


Jenna April 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

You tender, tender mama. I love hearing how you love your kids.


Cyn April 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Totes get this. Just this morning I said, for the billionth time, “Hey Eldest, Could you please listen? Your brother is TALKING TO YOU.” And I wished for a recorded version of that so I could just press a button next time. Or, better yet, something I could give to Youngest to use when necessary. And then I thought, wait, there are going to be times in Youngest’s life when he needs to address this very situation, of not being heard, and maybe right now he’s learning how to do that–and perhaps Future Youngest will then be able to go HEY! I know how to deal with this because of when my brother didn’t listen. And it will all be good.

But in the meantime, sigh.


Amy @ NTT April 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm

My kids ignoring each other hurts MY feelings, let alone theirs. I don’t know why I let it get under my skin so, but I do. I have one who loves to tease, and one who can’t resist reacting, and whoa boy.


Amy @ NTT April 27, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Oh, and the quirks? My kids have got ’em. In spades.


Katrina Kenison April 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Sometimes I think that if I could teach my kids just one thing, it would be kindness. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing my sons being good to each other; nothing harder than witnessing the pain they inflict, whether consciously or not. This beautiful post captures all of that– especially our basic, human need to be seen as we are, to be heard, to know that someone is listening. For kindness is really the same thing as paying attention. Love your quirky girls, and you.


Katybeth April 27, 2012 at 5:30 pm

“Low level listening” is something I can be certainly be found guilty of, as can my teen. I have learned my 16 year old listens to the first 4-6 words out of my mouth and that I better make them count because on word number 7 he tunes out. .
Being ignored is hard on the soul which is why it’s such an effective means of making “people go away.” I’m sure it does hurt Miss M feelings and it’s wonderful that you intervine instead of just letting them “work it out.” Isn’t being conscious of one’s behavior the first step towards changing it? Your helping your children to become more conscious of how their actions help and hurt one another. Such good stuff.
I’d let yourself off the hook about your own “low level listening.” What you don’t hear they can work out in therapy….


Maria April 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Oh yes, the infamous, in-a-trace-that-can’t-be-broken-unless-threatened-with-bodily-harm ignoring of the sibling(s). Boy, does it drive me mad!

But yet, with three kids, all vocal, all loud (I cannot imagine where they get that from!), there is never enough listening from mom. ‘Cause she’s tired, she’s balancing a MILLION things at the same time, and they ALWAYS want to tell me something really important when I am on the phone with a medical insurance company or hospital that’s trying to collect $27,000 for something that has a $35 co-pay.

Mothering is hard. Maybe I should keep appointments like a therapist. Will that screw them up more than me pretending to listen half the time and wondering how they got to the conclusion?

No wonder why they don’t listen…


Kate April 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Being heard is so important. Especially to us younger siblings! Good for you for standing up for her. Better for listening.


Barbara April 28, 2012 at 7:30 am

With three under three, I probably didn’t listen to anyone. The boys fought all the time and the daughter continually screamed: “The brothers were in my room again!!!!”
I have photos of my third, wandering around the back yard in one of those things kids sit in with wheels, pushing himself around, with wet diapers hanging down by his knees.

And to my complete surprise, they all grew up. Nicely too.


Tiffany April 28, 2012 at 8:02 am

I think Miss M. is teaching us all a lesson that we all need.


Heather April 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm

You and I could swap kids and the only noticeable difference would be boys vs. girls. You could have been in my house today and heard this very same scenario. And Keegan calls me out when I’m not truly listening. Usually, I appreciate him for it.


Jennifer April 30, 2012 at 8:06 am

We have this, but I totally know that Cady is doing it on purpose. It drives me crazy. Bud loves her SO, SO much and she is still too young to see the value in that love. I hope she doesn’t crush before she realizes how much she needs it.


Sarah April 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm

They change us. They are who they are over and over again and we think we’re just getting through the days, but then we start thinking differently and realize that they’ve changed us. They make us better.

At least, that’s me. Do you feel like this too? I’m so often thrown by the changing. But then I sit with it and realize I am just grateful. For them. And who they make me.



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