Saturday, February 9, 2013

I Talk to the Trees

When I was young my Dad would sing this little tune - usually to the background of six kids banging utensils, crashing toys, yelling and chasing each other round the house while one of us wheeled through the kitchen on roller skates. (That isn't an exact scenario but you get the idea.)

It went like this:

"I talk to the treeeees.... but they don't listen to me."

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I thought it was just one of his nonsense songs; he had a bunch of them. But as I grew older, I realized he was singing about us. That sing-songy phrase was his way of coping with a crowd of rowdy kids who weren't listening - a silly song that subtly (and humorously) expressed his displeasure at not being heard.

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me and my super dad

Fast forward thirty years and I'm the one trying to talk over three squealing girls as they dash through the living room hooked together by a string of leggings. Simultaneously, my boys turn over the toy bins with a spectacular crash, vrooming, honking, and hooting as they go (that is an exact scenario). And guess what? I totally get what my Dad was singing about.

"Sami!" I call. "It's your turn to set the table! Will you come set the table?"

She gallops through the kitchen, laughing.

"Eliza! I've asked you three times to hang up your coat. Will you please hang up your coat?"

She trundles down the stairs.

"Speeeeeen-cer, Gorrrrrrrr-don! It's time for dinner! Will you please come get in your chairs?"

No time for dinner. No awareness of Mom. No cognizance that my voice is now dangling in the air, useless.

After asking politely, begging a bit, then raising my voice a few decibels, the blood beneath my eyebrows starts to boil, the steam inside my ears starts rising, and pretty soon I feel like a kettle ready to blow.

Then I think of my Dad's song. And out it comes. Right off my lips like it's always been there.

"I talk to the treeeeeees... but they don't listen to me."

Instead of yelling, I start to laugh. Because it is kind of funny. That's what they are sometimes. Trees. All five of them. And they're not listening to me at... all!

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So what to do?

Sometimes yelling slows the action, stops a certain behavior. But it comes at a price. A child's feelings get hurt, I feel guilty because I didn't keep my cool, and there's always the emotional clean-up afterwards. (Can you tell I'm still thinking about the Mountain?)

For years Freudian philosophy said it was cathartic to vent your anger. Go ahead, let it out, blow off that steam. Recently, however, that idea is being replaced by scores of studies that show venting doesn't actually soothe anger; it fuels it. [1] 

So when we're finally gathered around the table, I tell them the story about my Dad. 

They get a kick out of it. 

I tell them I don't want to talk to trees. I want to talk to kids who can hear me. And you know what? They listened.

I've taken to singing my Dad's song fairly often. When I do, my kids understand they should be listening. And... it's kind of magical... they come to the table, hang up their coats, get napkins from the pantry. Not always. (No system is perfect.) But if nothing else, it redirects my own emotion, helps me walk more peaceably, and reminds me that my kids won't always be this crazy, our home won't always be this chaotic.

My Dad knew something I occasionally forget. That the insanity known as horse and buggy with leggings, dinos that hoot, cars that crash, and giggles that cannot be contained will end. Too soon there will be no disordered din to shout over. No herd of toddlers to corral. Gone will be the innocent creativity, the playfulness they prioritize, the tiny bodies hung on my hip, the leg hugs, the pudgy hands that slide so easily into mine.

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my dad with spence and gordy

Why screech and rant? This season is so brief. I can already feel their tug on the apron strings lessening.

Maybe there's something worth laughing at with my children? A child that will feel loved if I stop for a minute and gently put my arm around her to request help. Surely a little more patience, combined with a sense of humor, would give me more mileage than at stormy, put-out swagger. 

So I make eye-contact with the child that needs to listen, I kneel down to talk to them - nose to nose. I speak calmly but directly, and then I smile. It feels good to hold it together, be the eye in the storm. 

Isn't the best teaching always done by example?

"Teach your children everything you know, and when you must, use words."

I also love this from Plato.

"With anything young and tender the most important part of the task is the beginning of it; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression more readily taken."

Trees grow in every house. So in case you're musically inclined, I jotted down the tune for you. 

But any tune will do.

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p.s. Kara, Kerri, and the rest of you accomplished musicians. Something looks amiss. Help?

[1] Cain, Susan (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking pg. 233. CROWN Random House, Inc.


  1. Cath,
    This song is from "Paint Your Wagon". The song in the movie was sung by Clint Eastwood. I sing it often myself. - Roger

    1. Rog - I should have known it was from a musical. Since B & R left yesterday I didn't get a chance to ask him. Thanks for citing the source. You are the best.

    2. p.s. I just listened to Clint's version. Not bad! (For a non-singing cowboy.) Loved the rest of the lyrics. Thx again.

  2. This is fabulous! What a perfect way to help kids listen, or not. Sometimes I ask if I'm invisible It has a similar effect.

  3. Oh, I adore the pictures in this post: the one of you and your dad grinning at each other is so priceless, and the next one with the blurred bodies? So perfect!!!!

    And here is a link to the sheet music to answer your rhythm question. Those quarter note triplets are tricky! :)

  4. Oh Cath, you've done it again. This is just what I needed to hear tonight. I've thrown too many fits lately over this exact things.....trees, not listening to me. I love your approach and am convinced that blowing off steam doesn't help anything. Not. at. all.

    Thank you for the reminder. And for the song. I'm going to start singing it (just hope I don't sing it too loudly and angrily).

    I also loved:

    "Too soon there will be no disordered din to shout over. No herd of toddlers to corral. Gone will be the innocent creativity, the playfulness they prioritize, the tiny bodies hung on my hip, the leg hugs, the pudgy hands that slide so easily into mine."

    This time is so fleeting. I don't want to waste it getting mad.

  5. Loved this Cath. Thank you for the reminder.
    Your time signature is missing (and the right division of measures). 2/4 probably. Love you, wise woman.

  6. Adri - you are dear.

    Michelle - Yes, invisible. Too often, we go not only unheard, but unseen. ;) xoxo

    Kerri - Oh bless you for offering the sheet music. What a fabulous site! Thanks for the help there. And Kara too, thanks for the pointers. I realized my division of measures was off after posting. That photo is a total embarrassment to what little musical training I have. But, I'm not going to spend any time feeling worried about it. Sooooo.... anyone reading that wants the tune: click on Kerri's link and ignore my sad attempt. ;)

    Saydi - I'm with you. I don't want to waste this time getting or feeling mad. I have to work at it every night. Especially now, since most nights I'm going it alone. It's hard and exhausting, but I love their little faces so much, and I want them to have good memories of this time. You're an inspiration. I love you.

    Kara - friend of my soul. Thanks for reading. xo

  7. So true Cath-we just had Janey baptized and the deacon said, "You can do everything you think is possible to teach your kids everything they need to know but the majority of what they learn is going to be from the example you set-how YOU act-every single day." While that weighs on me so heavily, it's completely true.

  8. I am going to start singing that song in our home... Thank you for your wise words once again...

  9. Oh Cath! Such memories! Do you recall being on vacation and seeing "Annie Get Your Gun"? I can't even remember for sure where we were. Crested Butte maybe? Anyway, we all went crazy when they sang that song in the musical because we now knew where it came from. Remember? Anyway. I totally hear you. I swear my voice is just background noise to my boys.

    I actually had a blog post titled the exact same a year ago, and since I never blog it was my second to last post. A little different take on song and it's meaning to me that day, but nonetheless it was fun to see the same title on this post.

    Glad Kerri and Kara were able to assist with your music. I had to laugh(not in a mocking way)at your attempt and I'm glad you don't worry about the imperfections. My writing skills are just as lacking. I think I probably know music better now after teaching, than grammar. At least your writing skills are superb! To each their own. And here's to forever singing that song!!! I'm going to discuss it tonight at dinner with my boys. Hopefully they will listen too. Love you!


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