Dialogue is key in writing books. And in parenting. Understanding dialogue, shifting through dialogue to pick up nuances, and getting to know a character. Dialogue helps remind us we need to listen better. Instead of casually checking your Droid for messages, or glancing around the room, concentrate on the person you are conversing with. Study their face, gestures, expressions, and tone. You will be taken to a whole other level. This is the level where you discover treasure. This is the level you discover who your character really is.
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to my children over the past few weeks. Trapped for long weekends from slush and ice and snow, we played games and I watched them do a lot of creative play. My favorite times have been our conversations. It’s brought the concept of dialogue to a whole new level. Here are some highlights:
Jake: Mommy, we learned about Dr. King in school. He got shot because of a bad man. Why?
Me: Well, Dr. King was a very brave man who stood up for what’s right. No one should be judged by the color of their skin, so he fought for what’s right. Some people got mad at Dr. King and a very bad man shot him.
A pause. Jake: Do people get mad at you, mommy?
Me: Yes, sometimes.
Alarm. Jake: What if someone shoots you?
Me: No one is going to shoot me, honey.
Jake: Was Dr. King scared?
Me: Yes, but he stood up for what’s right.
Jake: Do you get scared, Mommy?
Jake: You mean adults get scared too?
Me: Of course. Even adults get scared.
Pause. Jake: But if adults are scared, how are you supposed to protect me from monsters if you are scared too?
Me: Because Mommy is not scared of monsters. There’s no such thing as monsters.
Jake: You call men with guns monsters so there are monsters and they can shoot you.
Me: How about playing Candyland? I ask hopefully.
I promise to revisit this conversation when he is 7. I swear. Really.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up, Jake? You have to draw a picture for school.
His face lights up. Jake: I want to be a rock star chicken robot.
I struggle with this. Me: Well, they’re talking about a job. A robot and a chicken isn’t a job. A rock star is. How about something like a fireman or an astronaut?
Shakes his head stubbornly. Jake: Chickens have jobs because they lay eggs. Robots like R2D2 work. So I’m drawing all 3.
I have nothing left to argue with so I let him draw it. The picture was so worth it.
Joshie: Mommy, take this lifesaber. You are Obi Wan Kenobi and I am Anakin. We have to find Yoda and get the bad guys.
Me: Sigh. Can’t Jake play with you, honey?
Joshie: No. You.
I grab my sword and surrender. “OK who’s the bad guy?”
Joshie throws the stuffed Mario Brothers doll into the corner of the kitchen. “There. First we get Yoda in the swamp to help us.”
We trudge through the swamp (my kitchen actually looks like one) and get Yoda. I am instructed how to hold my lightsaber the proper way. Then Mario follows us through the caves to get to Darth Vader. The stuffed bunny comes out.
Joshie: First I get him, then you. We both hit him with our swords. Cool – we did it! Now we drink our Capri Suns and jump on the bed.
Me: Mommy hurt her leg in the battle so I need to rest on the chair. I think Daddy is ready for a jumping contest.
Joshie studies my face for a bit then decides to believe me. “OK, mommy, good battle. You rest.”
I smile and grab my Kindle while I hear my husband’s groan in the bedroom.
My niece is 12 years old now but I remember this classic that has never left my mind. We were sitting on the stoop when she was 4 and looking at pictures. One came up with her mother pregnant.
T: Aunt Jen, how come I’m not with mommy in this picture?
Me: You are. You’re in mommy’s belly.
A look of pure horror overtakes her face. “Mommy ate me!! Gross!”
And my all time favorite:
Joshie: Mommy, I love you more than the stars.
Me: I love you more than the sun.
Joshie: I love you more than the whole universe!
Me: I love you more than the moon, stars, sun and whole solar system.
Joshie: Mommy, what’s the biggest number in the whole world?
Joshie: I love you more than infinity and beyond like Buzzy Lightyear!
Me: You win, my love. This time you win.
If we listen a bit better, there is buried treasure within each conversation. Humor, confusion, innocence. And most of all: love.