Just Say No

“Hey papa, what is KY?” my teenage son Luke asked my father this summer.

My dad, taken by surprise but recovering quickly, cleared his throat and launched into an answer. “Well, Luke, ahem, it’s uh, a, uh, sexual lubricant...” Dad went on to make a detailed and direct response to a teenage question, you know, a man to man moment. My mom and I were sitting on a nearby sofa, drinking wine and chatting, when naturally we perked up at the interesting conversation unfolding on the chairs closer to the television, which was blaring ESPN. We started to get the giggles, amused at my Dad and his matter-of-fact tone. Our family is more of a motley crew, more apt to crack a joke about lube than to use correct or demure terminology about anything.

“That doesn’t really make sense to me,” Luke interrupted, clearly confused.

“Well, it will probably matter more to you when you are older,” Dad confessed.

“So how can someone be from KY?” Luke shrugged, glancing over at the television.

Dad followed his gaze, looking at the player photos popping up on screen. Suddenly red faced and already cracking up, Dad said, “Well, Luke. KY is also an abbreviation for Kentucky.”

“Oh, ok. And by the way Papa, I know what lube is.”

We dissolved into laugher, total hysterics ensued, and when I could breathe again and see through my tears, I texted everyone I knew (who could appreciate our family’s unique brand of humor—Not. For. Every- one.).

This story brings up a point I have wanted to write about, an interesting tendency that people have towards T.M.I. (too much information). Whether it’s our nervous fumbling when it comes to explaining sex to our children (talking about penises and vaginas, sperm, eggs, humping and zygotes when “Mommy’s Tummy” is probably good enough for now) or the caught-on-the-spot feeling of responding to an invitation we have no desire to attend, we all talk too damn much. Um, so, like I’d really love to come, but you see, I can’t, because well, Timmy has a football game and Sophie has to be at dance, and I have to take Mary to the doctor because her throat hurts and I want to rule out strep. And my car has a light on and needs to go to the shop also, so there’s that...anyway...thank you but I will let you know. I mean, no, sorry, I can’t.

Seriously? Can we just shut up already?

How about the timeless elegance and power of a “No, thank you?” What happened to that? We talk too much because we’re uncomfortable or don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. But our discomfort with truth, our over-share, and our deception likely hurts a lot worse than a simple no. It’s okay to say we already have plans. When mothers of daughters model the bleaching of the white lie, we raise another generation of passive aggressive pleasers, eggshell walking women who are afraid to speak their truth or state their needs or desires with confidence and freedom. Besides nowadays if you don’t tell the truth upfront (openly and kindly, please) about what you are doing and with whom, it will be reported to everyone on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat anyway. It’s the collusion and exclusion bane of social media, which was ironically created for inclusion.

Sometimes we talk too much because we love to explain how busy we are, how integral our participation is to the functioning of society at large. So we give a play by play of our awesomeness, endurance and dedication; I call this the mama-martyr-syndrome, but men do it too. Symptomatic of this state is the phrase, “I have to...” interspersed with heavy sighing to illustrate the weight of such responsibility. In order to break myself of this vainglorious little habit, I attempt to rephrase all my “I have to...” statements into “I get to...” It’s amazing how a little humility and gratitude can change an entire conversation or an entire life.

We often talk too much because we are intimidated by silence. The space between words, and the pauses within conversation are just as valuable as the words themselves. This is where breathing occurs, and in addition to that, the empty space becomes a canvas for the lost art of listening. Thinking about what you are going to say next is not the same as listening. Although our society is starting to replace connection with updates, no one really wants a filibuster friend. Hush.

Just as KY can pertain to both a state of dryness and a state beneath Ohio, we need to consider the context, the relationship, the situation, and the subtleties. We can more intentionally use our words, and our silence, to be understood and to truly understand.


Illustration by Joy Gallagher

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