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I Hear You
A conversation between Father and Son
This recording and story are a real conversation I had with my 8-year-old son about screen time while we were on vacation last week. Hope it feels honest, raw and fun.
“I hear you,” I said as I sat down, setting my phone on the garden bench. I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees, folding my hands. I looked across the path to the bench where my 8-year-old son was sitting. He had his knees to his chest and forced tears beginning to well in his eyes.
“We’re not going to do that right now though” I continued, recognizing a renewed desire to be firm about this one.
“But when are we, but, not in the car or the airplane?” He asked with soft and confused tenderness.
“Well, I told you, we can watch movies” I paused again, trying to think of somewhere reasonable to go, a place to make sense for him.
“Not but like, here, like not watch movies, like, um, like playing iPads or something” he was starting an honest, confused, and effortful cry, with whimpers between every third or fifth word. “Like when I was watching Kohen on his Nintendo, that was not, that was not screen time. That wasn’t screen time. That was just watching.”
“That was just watching” I was starting to ask.
“Yes!” he interjected.
“Someone else with screen time?” I finished my question, trying to practice the mirroring bullshit from the books.
“Yeah,” he said with a man-sized tear dangling on his thick eyelashes. He moved his hand up to rub it off with his sleeve. Another tear slid down the opposite cheek.
“I hear you,” I said again, moved by the half-fake tears, not sure what else I could say.
“And why didn’t you let me?” he asked, going for the jugular.
“I hear you” I took a deep sigh. I felt myself going to my comfort zone of the ontologically complicated life. No, don't go there, it won't help him feel heard, I was thinking to myself. I couldn't resist.
“It’s complicated man, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I want you to do more stuff outside. We’re here in a really special vacation time.” It made no sense as soon as I said it.
“You literally, you literally almost want me to go outside, I always go outside” He saw straight through it.
“You are,” I said, now drowning so deep in empathy I couldn’t speak clearly.
“You always make me go outside,” he said.
“I know, you’re awesome,” I said, wondering if a compliment would help.
“It’s not fair, like, when I’m in timeout, you don’t let me get water,” I didn’t expect him to back up his evidence of my unfair treatment.
“I know,” I said, feeling completely defeated and reeling in the terror of forcing my child into thirst while waiting out a 10-minute time-out. I thought I needed to redirect “And you’re so good about going outside, you’re like, the king of going outside.”
“No, I’m not,” He said, with clarity and force that moved tears aside.
“You’re not?” I asked.
“You’re the king of going outside. I’m the king of going inside.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I just want to be inside,” his whimpers started deepening.
“Ok,” I said
“I just want to play the iPad”
“I know” I did know that.
“It’s not fair,” he said. I knew that too.
“I hear you. You want to give me a hug?” I offered physical touch as reassurance that his yearning for justice is the essence of love.
“Like, watching something is not doing screen time” He stated. Moving tears aside again to completely ignore my question.
“Watching something isn’t doing screen time?” I asked, starting over on the mirroring bullshit.
“Yeah, it isn’t”
“Like, if you watch Kohen play the switch that’s not screen time?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s just watching, it’s not like doing it” He stated.
“Plus why aren’t we allowed to watch it? We won’t like, just get addicted to it, we just like to watch stuff” he explained, now trying to address what he understood as my primary concern.
“I know, watching stuff is cool,” I said, feeling like I'd given up.
“We aren’t going to play it,” he explained.
“I know,” I said, now just completely lying.
I suppose this is more experimentation around my interest in the overlap between field recording, short stories and human intimacy. It was incredibly fun to make and think about in the practical and abstract.
I shared the audio with Kelso a few days ago. Maybe a week after it happened. It was a deep joy to see his eyes light up and smile bend high as he recognized his own voice. We talked about what he was feeling during this conversation for a while afterwards. I am learning far more from him in these moments than I can ever hope to be helping him learn. I suppose, in a nutshell, that is the beauty of parenting.
In a practical sense, it’s enjoyable to listen back and assess my own voice. Am I really “hearing” him like I say I am? What are the signs he is feeling heard? What are the things I could be doing better to attune with his emotion? What am I doing well?
My transition to becoming a single parent has evoked a lot more self-reflection on the emotional availability I afford my kids. I think it’s mostly evolved out of a need to learn how to give it to myself. I think paying attention to these nuances have informed my writing and my thinking in ways that have deeply shaped the kind of person I am becoming. Turtles all the way down I guess.
I’ve also really enjoyed the practical aspects of recording these kinds of intimate, real conversations in an effort to learn how to write them. Switching between the written story and the recording of the conversation – they way they both flow – is incredibly enlightening. There are unique strengths between each medium. It’s interesting to compare and contrast.
Interesting shit this week that maybe informed my thinking in the written story?
Love’s Work by Gillian Rose
I forgot I had ordered this book and was delighted to find it in the mail when we returned from holiday in Michigan. I can’t find the list now, but it was from a professors reading list for a course on love. He said this book was the most important. It’s beautiful and approachable and philosophical and moving. Feels like a combination of a Jewish, English bell hooks with 70s Patti Smith style caricatures.
The lovers must leave a distance, a boundary, for love
Whether romantic love of partnership or parental love of child, boundaries and a certain kind of distance help it grow.
Happy sunset of summer,