I've heard it said that to be a good conversationalist you should listen 80 percent of the time and only talk 20 percent of the time. If that is true then I am the best conversationalist in the whole world courtesy of my children. The only time one of those boys isn't talking is when they're sick. I mean really sick.
I get about one word in for every 30 spoken by a little shaver. I thought I had a "strong, silent type" in my fourth-born, Leif, but it turned out he was just saving up his thoughts for the first four years of his life in order to speak them all -- continuously -- for the rest of his life.
Our little bean, Rowan, has trouble saying his "s" sound at the beginning of words, so he substitutes for it with "h" sounds. Thus "The Muppet Show" becomes "The Muppet Ho." And "soup" becomes "houp." (It's always accompanied by an enthusiastic thumbs-up. The boy loves houp!) This is a device, I think, he uses to make me pay close attention to him while he speaks. The littlest boy of five boys has to use whatever tools he can to be heard.
Also devised to keep folks on their toes is the boys' favorite mode of communication; rapid-fire simultaneous shout-speaking. This consists of all of the boys talking and gesticulating at the same time and it often includes sound effects and hand motions or battle reenactments. It wouldn't be such a problem except that they all expect you to respond intelligently to what they just said.
For instance, while I was running on the treadmill at a respectable pace for a woman with five sons, I had to answer the following questions: "Mom! What is the Latin equivalent of the Greek 'tropos'?"; "Momma? How do I spell 'caterwaul'?"; "What's for dinner, Mom?" and "Would you please tell Liam to stop looking at me in that tone of voice? He keeps poking my ego." Have you ever tried to maintain a respectable pace -- let alone remain upright on a treadmill -- while enduring that? My powers of concentration got a great workout that day, too.
But along with the challenges posed by communication with my five sons comes the incredible payoff. Gut-busting, belly-aching laughter is the daily compensation.
When my husband called us to check in while on a business trip we had the following exchange:
Mom (covering one ear in order to hear): "Have fun at the rewards banquet, honey."
Liam (shocked!): "Dad's getting a reward? They'd better give him a statue."
Ty (excited): "Yeah! Maybe they'll give him an Oscar."
Leif (growling angrily): "And I don't like Hannah Montana!"
Rowan (with enthusiastic thumbs up): "Houp!"
Aidan (feeling full weight of worldly knowledge): "No Ty! Oscars are what they give to good golfers. And tennis players."
There is one time other than sickness that these wildcats are quiet: dinner time. The difference is quite dramatic and lasts only as long as their favorite entrees. What follows is a recipe that keeps them quiet for approximately 15 minutes. That may not sound like much, but it's gold, I tell you. Gold.
Crispy Black Bean Tacos
2 cans black beans, drained
2 t. ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1/2 t. garlic powder)
3 T. olive oil
8 corn tortillas
Grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, optional
Salsa, optional, for serving
Sour cream, optional, for serving
Place black beans, garlic and cumin in a medium bowl. Squash with a potato masher or the bottom of a heavy jar just until you've mashed about 1/3 of the beans. Stir well and set aside.
Put olive oil in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Working in batches, place two or three tortillas (as many as can fit in your pan in a single layer) in the oil. Divide the bean mixture into eighths and spoon each serving onto one side of each tortilla. Cook for one minute and then fold in two. If you are using cheese, sprinkle over the beans. Continue cooking for one minute, flip to other side and cook for one more minute. Remove to plates and serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired, and Southwestern Slaw (recipe below). Makes 8 servings.
-- Adapted From Bon Appetit magazine
4 c. shredded cabbage (or bagged coleslaw mix)
4 sliced green onions
1/3 c. fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped (or 2 T. dried parsley flakes)
1 T. olive oil
1 T. lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar
In a medium bowl, combine olive oil and lime juice with a whisk or fork. Add cabbage, cilantro or parsley, and green onions and toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 8 servings.
-- Adapted From Bon Appetit magazine