First of all, I was a child who talked too much.
My older sister and parents don’t laugh about these memories; they agonize over them. If you ask them about how much I talked as a child, they’ll close their eyes and step back as if they are trying to distance themselves from the terrible memory of my talking, like people shielding their eyes from the glare of the fiery sun. My mom will say, “You have no idea. You have no idea how much she talked.”
It was all this as a child: Heather, stop talking. Heather, please, please be quiet. Heather, let someone else talk. Heather, will you please just stop talking? Please? If you don’t stop talking, I’m going to go crazy.
My talking single-handedly caused more migraine headaches in my house than any other trigger.
I had such serious articulation needs (isn’t that a nicer and more medical way to say it, like it wasn’t something I chose?) that talking wasn’t actually enough. Not at all. I wrote in journals, voiced stories inside my head to myself, and maintained an ongoing glitzy parade of words all day long. I remember walking around my backyard, reciting the Gettysburg Address or a speech I wrote of my own, just to hear the rhythm of the words.
Everything I learned, I had to teach someone because I loved them that much. Besides, everything I thought, I had to export somehow or it corrupted inside of me, festering.
As an adult, this need never waned. I’ve written a thesis, a dissertation, six novels, thousands of blogs, and twenty journals full of words. And I talk. Oh, Lord, I talk. And then I talk some more. And more. I talk to God most of all. He’s the best listener.
Words, words, words. I can’t stop. The words are just so sweet and juicy and must be shared. The thoughts fill up my head and have to escape or else I go crazy inside, like steam screaming on the kettle.
So I both talk and write too much. I generally am too much.
My oldest daughter inherited my too-muchness. So at dinner a few nights ago, she asks the table guests, “Am I talking too much?”
We gently, gently suggest that she might want to let others talk, too. Just like her teacher gently, gently told her she might want to let other students answer in class. Just like her youth pastor gently, gently reminded her that other people have thoughts to share, too.
So we’re doing all that gentle training. It’s good. She needs to learn, like her wise father says, that there’s a time and place for things–like fire in a fireplace is good, but fire outside the fireplace harms people. She has to control the fire a bit to right times and right places. Who doesn’t?
But something overcame me this morning. I called out to my daughter to come to me immediately, in a voice like something was on fire or that I was on fire and needed rescue (it felt like I was).
“What, Mom? I’m here.”
“Do you know when you asked if you were talking too much last night? Well, listen to me right now. Listen as hard as you can: You are absolutely perfect. You are absolutely amazing.You have things to say.” I think of her thoughts bubbling over like the caramel you melt for candied apples in autumn. “You just keep being you, all the time.”
I said this because I have found people who love me and who let me talk and write because I must. They don’t silence me or shame me. They fold their hands under their chins, refill their coffee mugs, and let me talk and talk and talk. I suppose I could have stopped talking because it was so annoying (and it often is), but it’s also part of who I am.
A man fell in love with this talker and thanks the good Lord that for every introverted, quiet man, there’s a boisterous, extroverted woman bushwhacking her way into social settings and paving an easy path for him to follow. (One neighbor said it’s more like I’m a Marine storming new territory, and my husband is like the Army coming in after, quietly maintaining peace and order.)
The point is that my husband has been listening to and reading my words for 15 years.
And, to give you hope, dear parent of a talker, I’ve learned to meet all of these articulation needs in more unselfish ways that don’t require people to just sit and listen, but I’ve never stopped getting the words out.
It’s because at just the right time–when I was exactly my daughter’s age–a teacher told me to write speeches and compete in oratory contests because I just had so much to say and people needed to hear it. I didn’t lose one word during those years. I wrote them all down and spoke them on stage. In high school, I went straight from oratory to Policy Debate where the goal was to speak as many words as possible in the shortest amount of time.
As many words as possible! There were prizes given for this sort of bliss. I was home. I found myself. While other girls were riding horses or shopping at the mall in the summers, I went to debate camp with all the other talkers who were so happy together we were like young wizards finally using their wands at Hogwarts. My sister and parents fully supported this competitive speaking, and they drove me all over the United States to debate things I can’t even remember now.
It could have gone differently. I could have listened and stopped talking like all the precious, orderly, appropriate, silent daughters of the world who speak only when spoken to. These children, I fear, turn in on themselves, closing tightly shut like sea anemones who open for no one.
But I didn’t.
I just don’t want my daughter’s words lost because she’s been shamed one too many times or made to feel like she’s too much, exhausting, selfish, or annoying.
I don’t want to silence children; I want to fan the flame of all their glorious word seeds and let the whole thing rage on.
Someone wants to listen. There’s a stage waiting for her like there was for me.
So when she asks again, “Am I talking too much?” with those wide, tearful, insecure eyes, I’m going to say, “No! In fact, tell me more. Tell me so much more.”
I’ll sit back and watch that blaze of glory.