You Never Listen

Yet another phrase that has been driven into me all of my life.

This was said to me almost every single day of my childhood. I could never understand why. I remember trying to make scones with my mother when I was six years old. I was listening to her voice and watching her hands, trying to copy the movement she was making with her hands. Suddenly, without warning, she fell silent. As I looked up, the bowl of flour and butter flew across the room, and she stormed out cursing “You never FUCKING listen.” I was so shocked I sat there for a while before I tried to scrape the mess back into the bowl, and I took it to my mother, shaking, apologising, wanting to try again. For a minute or two she ignored me, cigarette in hand, before telling me again that I never listen. I protested and cried, still apologising, until she screamed “GET OUT OF MY SIGHT.”

This kind of thing, of course, would happen all the time. When she tried to help me draw, or make something, or clean something, or do anything. It would often be accompanied by a tirade of “stupid”, “selfish”, “go to hell you little shit”, etc. Each time I remember not knowing why she said it- unless, of course, I had asked her to repeat something. This often warranted the same response.

In my own head I was trying as hard as I possibly could. She obviously told family members about these incidents, because I frequently heard it from them too in off-the-cuff remarks. What I didn’t know, and what I didn’t know until I started university and the puzzle pieces in my head flew together like electromagnets, is that I do listen. I just had trouble sometimes.

In my first year of university, I studied Primary Education before settling on just literature. After the first two months of lectures I had an epiphany while studying how to make pieces of information accessible to different age groups and learning styles. I recalled the incident with the scones, and all the other similar incidents, and I realised that my mother just had no idea how children were supposed to learn. Or, to be more specific, how I was supposed to learn. As I mentioned in the article “Stupid”, she had no problem adapting herself to other children.

I remember she is an over-explainer. Everyone who knows my mother knows that she explains everything in the minutest detail when she could explain something in less that thirty seconds (a trait that I have in part soaked up and that I hate). I then remembered something that my Sifu drilled into us during our instructor training for the children at my kung fu school: Praise, Correct, Praise. Short snippets of information to be taught at any one time, showing them exactly where they went wrong, all sandwiched within two comfortable slices of positive reinforcement. This was all being confirmed by my current studies, and I realised that rather than not listening, I was merely being given too much information at once.

I then again thought back to making the scones, listening to how exactly I was supposed to crumble the flour and butter while watching her hands. I know now, after studying myself and other children, that I learn by watching and doing (kinaesthetically), not by hearing and translating into movement. I had been watching her hands, not looking at her. I remembered all the other times… and all the other times, I had been looking at her hands. And I didn’t get it right away, not like with reading and writing. I remember her saying frequently “for a clever girl, you aren’t half stupid”. And last year, I found an explanation for that, too.

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with dyspraxia. (Well, if I’m going to be pedantic, the needs assessor at my universtity said that my dyspraxic traits were enough to write that on the form, but I also had some evidence of other cognitive disorders such as an autism spectrum condition). A common dyspraxic trait, and something from which I suffer, is difficulty in processing and remembering large chunks of information at once. For me, spoken information is the hardest.

The assessor showed me the evidence after I had taken the test. I also had difficulty replicating series of hand gestures, and replicating a picture with different shapes. My gross motor skills were a joke. I realised that my mother, who excels in all of these fields, expected my intelligence and learning style to be exactly like her own- across the board. I tried to reason with myself, and tell myself that her style of teaching me would have been inaccessible to most children, let alone one with a processing disorder, but this does not always work to make me feel any better.

As an adult, my confidence in lectures and seminars plummets without knowing I can revisit my dictaphone recording. Before my diagnosis, fast-paced and one-sided lectures would drive me to tears of frustration without the interactive and accessible safety net of classroom-based learning. The crushing shame of my “stupidity” was almost unbearable in my second year of university, having failed to meet the demands of the full on primary education course.

Looking back, I understand why. During lectures and on placement, asking for clarification or for something to be repeated is something I never did. In my head, I imagined the other person to just storm out of the room and tell me I hadn’t been listening. In fact, when my brain could not process something, I nodded and smiled, frantically trying to retain everything that had been said. And unsurprisingly, I fucked everything up.

In my next post, I will take my dear readers through how all of this has impacted on my mental health in the present day.

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