I have nodes. I am living with nodes. But I am a survivor, but I have to pull back because I am limited. Because I have nodes. - Chloe, Pitch PerfectI’m on day 7... day 7 of TEN DAYS of no talking. Not a word. Not even a whisper. This after a minor surgery last Friday where my ENT removed a small node form my vocal cords. Depending on my audience, I scrawl an explanation on my dry erase board, “like in Pitch Perfect.” And depending on my audience, that explanation is met with smiles and squeals.
Several weeks ago I called my ENT and told the receptionist, “I really don’t have any desire to make an appointment with Dr. Fewins, and I really don’t want to come in.”
I continued, “Last time I saw Dr. Fewins, he forbade me to speak for ten days. And now I'm pretty sure I need the same procedure.”
“How long have you noticed your voice being hoarse?”
“Oh, about a year and a half.”
“Well,” she laughed, “let’s make that appointment.”
About a decade ago, the last time I had this procedure, our kiddos were so young. My ten days of parenting in silence was most difficult with Basden, because that’s just hard not to talk with a four-year-old. Essie was about two and toddled along just fine. The boys could both read, so I kept my dry erase board handy. But sweet Basden would just look at me, not fully understanding why I couldn’t talk to her. At one point she fell and hurt herself, and I remember holding and rocking her, not able to soothe her with words. No fun.
Also because of that week, Branson claims he’s the only eight-year-old who’s been screamed at through a dry erase board. I distinctly remember waving him upstairs to my room, and I was so stinking angry. I remember sitting on my bed, furiously writing out his offense, whatever it was, and holding it up in his little face. Then furiously erasing it, then furiously writing again, and holding it up... seriously one of my biggest parenting fails. I knew even then that I was out of control. Red faced, angry, chewing out my little boy in deafening silence with a dry erase marker.
AGH. Well, frustration and anger with little ones is a real thing, and I’ve written on that before. Let’s just say I utilize the words “I’m sorry” an awful lot (still do), and Branson had and still has a tender heart willing to forgive.
At the beginning of that week, all those years ago, my friend Tina gave me a cute tiny chalk board with the word “remember.” It hung above my desk for years, and that sign took me back to the lessons I learned enduring a small window of silence.
So it’s time for me to again remember.
Even surgery last Friday morning with full anesthesia couldn’t keep me from Bran and Hud’s Friday night football game (c’mon, this is Texas), Basden’s City Championship volleyball tournament (her team WON and she actually got to play for the first time in weeks after her ankle injury), and Esther’s volleyball game. During Essie's game, my good friend Alison approached me very concerned, “TJ! Essie told Caleb you had LUNG SURGERY ~ what in the world?? Surely I would have known if you were having LUNG surgery??!”
It’s different this time around with teenagers. Easier for sure, but different. If you look at what I posted ten years ago, my kids were leaving "I love you" post-it-notes all over the house. Now these big boys are just making fun.
Branson asks me a question, then walks past me and says, “I can’t hear you.”
Or he’ll say goodnight and start to head upstairs, glancing back at me, “Hey Mom - are you mad?” He waits for me to shake my head no, then continues, “You sure? You’re awfully quiet...”
I asked Bran a couple of nights ago if I needed to call his coach for some details about an event (me communicating all of this, naturally, on my erase board), and he paused then asked, “And just how are you gonna do that?” and he held his up his phone, looking sideways at me with hearty chuckle.
I’ll mouth something to Basden, hoping she can read my lips, and then she silently mouths something back in response. Then starts cracking up. She keeps falling for it.
Hudson sees a need and jumps in to help. On Halloween evening as he and Bran came in from football practice, he caught me handing out candy at the front door and immediately took over. “How are you even doing this?” he asked, taking the bowl from me. And for the rest of the night he went back and forth to the door, taking care of all those costumed kiddos.
Now, Essie is still young enough to be writing notes. She keeps stopping to kiss me every time I pass. Lots of compassion and empathy from that one. The funniest is that when I write her a note on the board, she wants to write me back. So it’s taking us years to communicate. But sweet.
And Corbin - he can’t understand a thing. Not my eyes, not my expressions... he told someone, “I am not the TJ whisperer.” I texted him that we’re gonna be pathetic trying to communicate in our eighties. However, he is compassionate. Made me stay home last Sunday from church to sleep in, and yikes I needed it.
The funniest response, and I remember this happening last time, is that when people realize I can’t talk, they immediately start to whisper, or even mime things back to me. I dropped some stuff at Good Will, held up a note that I couldn’t use my voice, and the man responded with, “Awww.” His voice grew softer, and as I walked back to my car I heard him whispering to another man, “she can’t talk.”
Going through a neighborhood guard gate, I showed the guard my note, and he immediately started miming, using some sort of sign language and giving me a thumbs up (all I needed was for him to open the gate). Incidentally, when I returned again a couple of hours later, Basden was with me and spoke to him for me. He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Oh, you’re the one who can’t talk!”
He leaned in, “Can you talk now??”
Joking aside, it’s evident when my friends “get it.” They immediately barge past the practicalities and consider the relational and even spiritual challenge of not speaking for a few days.
I pulled in the "Walmart to go" parking space (which is extremely convenient whether you can or can't speak) and looked over to see my friend Brandi in the next car. Holding up my sign, she immediately said, “Well what is THAT doing for your heart?”
And during small group, my friend Keely asked, “You can’t talk?? That’s awesome!” with a huge grin. She immediately knew this recovery involved a slowing down process, which I agree is “awesome.”
A few take-aways this time around:
- The invitation to rest is worth the interruption. So grateful that I don’t have added stress of losing days at a job, that my daily responsibilities are not terribly interrupted, and I was able to pretty much shut down for a week. How different - and refreshing - it is to just BE QUIET
- Other people get to talk. No kidding. I wish I listened more than I talked, the same way I’ve wished for years I was a morning person. I can discipline myself to get up early, but it’s not my nature. And I can work at listening, but man I usually have a lot to say.
- Much easier not to gossip or complain when not using words. I caught myself wanting to share a good story this week - a really good but not-mine-to-tell story - and thank goodness I couldn’t. And I got all the way to yesterday when I realized I haven’t complained this week (at least not with words, I'm still quite capable of rolling my eyes). How amazing and refreshing is that?! Affects my mindset.
- The majority of my words are not necessary. Just how much do I really want to type into my phone or write on a dry erase board? Believe me, just the necessities.
- While Pitch Perfect's Chloe is not necessarily the standard of wisdom, in this case she's exactly right, I have to pull back when I'm limited. When we have to compensate physically, it’s exhausting. Takes a lot of energy and creativity to communicate without words. Last Saturday after all the activity, I hit a wall. And even this week, if I’m out and about and seeing people, I have to stop and rest and be quiet. Perhaps I can remember this when spending time with (or even running into) others who are dealing with a physical disability.
Probably the most profound thing rolling around in my mind from all of this, intensified after just seeing "Same Kind of Different as Me," is that I need an advocate. I need someone who can speak for me. Basden with me at the guard gate. My mom with me checking out at Costco. Jamie with me in a crowded room of parents at gymnastics. I need someone to speak for me, someone to explain, someone to buffer. Someone who knows my story and can communicate for me when I'm not able.
And next Monday, even when I can speak again, I will still need an Advocate.
Especially if I have to go back through that guard gate.