I am writing this on my way home from visiting my son in college. It was a last minute trip I made after he called me sounding more stressed than he had been in a long time. He never said, come mom or I need you mom. I imagine at nearly twenty, he might have trouble admitting that. I practiced my best listening skills on the phone with him. I was silent. I was validating. I said things like, “I am sorry you are having such a tough week, honey.” I kept my impulse at bay to want to fix things for him. I knew that impulse well.
As a parent of a child who is now an adult, it’s a delicate balance knowing when to dole out the tough love and expect him to do things on his own with recognizing that despite his size and stage in life, there will always be moments when he needs me there. I mean, at nearly 46, I still turn to my mom sometimes.
In my attempt to uphold my efforts to cast myself out of the category of helicopter-parenting; I muted hearing what was coming through my son’s mood loud and clear. “You have to go to him,” my husband finally said. Yes, of course. He needed more than a pep talk over the phone. I needed to be able to distinguish that reality from my theories about what healthy parenting assumes itself to be.
It reminds me of something I read about months ago regarding the work of an acoustic biologist, a woman who spent her life listening to the way elephants communicate with each other amidst great distances. She sat and observed and leaned in to catch hold of a frequency that exists outside of the realm of the human ear. She described it as a new level of hearing life that involved the whole body.
I spent two days with my son helping him slow down and sift through the relatively expected challenges of his college life. He was in front of me, but had I only listened to what I expected of him or of myself, I would have missed the delicacy of being right there. I would have limited our communication and diminsihed a whole understanding of the big picture. A frequency that exists outside the realm of the human ear. As I located the openings within our conversations where my guidance or my comfort was possibly needed or not, a quality of patience and presence emerged and so did the eventual arrival of calm and clarity. “I am so happy you came,” my son told me more than once. “I am glad I listened,” I said.
There is a quality of listening that is our most precious offering. A listening that when it is not intercepted by our own agendas and ideals, or skewed by an unwillingness to bend, it takes us to a whole new space of being and delivers us completely whole and available for each other.
To listen in this way is to hear the world as it is not as we think it should be. To listen to each other is a way into hearing our own selves, and if we are tuned in that way love will be the sound we recognize.