Lost in Translation

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The blogging world is a giant playground for writers. So many different lives and voices and stories clamoring for attention.

There are young people and old, athletes and chefs, people who are ill and those seeking health, writers and engineers, cheerleaders for every cause and those who want to chronicle the lives of their children, their goats and their pets.

So many people want to tap us on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you’ll never believe what I just figured out!” I’m guilty of this as well. But I suspect many of the recipients of this wisdom roll their eyes like my teenager during one of my lectures.

She magically translates all my words through a filter of age, experience and hormones. So if I say, for example, “You need to clean your room,” the teenager hears, “I think your room should be spotless, because otherwise a neighborhood committee might inspect it someday or because some new, mutant disease is breeding under the bed.” An observation that six-inch heels look painful becomes “Tennis shoes are the height of fashion and should be worn at all times.” A suggestion to find and focus on a few passions translates to “It’s great if you spend all your time shopping for clothes or hanging out with your boyfriend.”

The same magic happens when I talk to my husband. If I say, “I had a really bad day today,” he hears, “I have a problem, and I need you to fix it.”

This translating occurs across all generations and races and classes. I heard an interview with the late Mike Wallace the other day in which his son Chris asked his father how he felt about getting old. As someone teetering on the edge of seniordom, I waited for Mike Wallace to say he’d found new serenity or wisdom or deeper relationships. Instead he pointed to his hearing aids, his failing eyesight and his pacemaker. “I hate it,” he said flatly. I can only imagine his reaction when he read advice from middle-aged baby boomers about growing old gracefully.

Many experiences must be lived to be understood. You can read a thousand parenting blogs, but until you are responsible for a tiny person’s life, you don’t really know the fear that can keep you up nights. Until someone you love dies, you don’t really know how it sets you apart from other people. So many times I’ve given someone advice or thought I understood something, then reached that point myself and realized I was wrong.

I sometimes think it’s possible to tell the age of any blogger by reading their posts. Twenty-somethings are idealistic and often sure they’re right. Thirty-somethings are preoccupied with their careers and families. Forty-somethings are busy creating and trying to leave their mark on the world. Those in their fifties seem more tolerant. They’re reinventing their dreams. Those in their sixties often look back. Bloggers over seventy are explorers who still like to learn and make new connections.

But the wonderful thing about blogging is that it draws all these people into conversation. Where else will you find a 50-year-old housewife discussing life and politics and books with a 20-year-old programmer half a world away or a 90-year-old ex-rancher the next state over? In our day-to-day lives we tend to interact with people like ourselves, but the online world is much wider.

We may not get what everyone is saying, but at least we’re talking.

Failure to Communicate

My mother-in-law just finished an extended visit. This led to some strange discussions.

Her: “We need to cut off all the lazy spongers who don’t want to work.”

Me: “I think a lot of the spongers are working hard and still need help.”

Her: “This woman in my church had her son move back, and he sits home all day and collects food stamps and does nothing.”

Me: “A lot of unemployed people are looking for work and can’t find jobs.”

Her: “If we keep handing them money, they don’t have any incentive to work.”

I kept trying to tell her we’re on food stamps, and I couldn’t do it. I love her, but she listens to Rush Limbaugh every day, reads the Weekly Standard, and would die before voting for a Democrat. I’m sure she’d be horrified to learn that the meals we served came from the taxpayers. So I sat and listened to her read snippets of news about welfare fraud and government debt and said nothing.

To be fair, I can’t tell my parents, either, and they voted for Obama. Part of me figures they should be able to work it out. After all, they know we haven’t had a profit in almost four years. They know we’ve been living off savings, but do they think they’re bottomless? Since they haven’t asked, I’m guessing they don’t want to know.

But it’s odd. Like hosting a barbecue for PETA and not mentioning that chicken is on the menu.

Children have been hiding hard truths from their parents since Eve enticed Adam. They don’t tell them about failing grades or lost jobs or lovers who don’t meet standard. I look at my kids now and wonder what they won’t tell me when they’re older. I hope I remember this time and keep my beliefs expansive enough to hear whatever they might say. I hope my kids will tell me when their marriage is on the rocks, or they discover a suspicious lump, or get fired from a job.

The privilege of worry belongs to parents. We give up peace of mind the moment we first feel our baby stir, and we don’t get it back no matter how old that child becomes. So call your kids and ask what’s on their minds, and talk to your parents and tell them what’s on yours. Listen for what isn’t said. The silence will come soon enough.