Whenever I mention the idea of creating background noise, couples of all ages evince great interest. Here comes. My father, after the golden wedding anniversary, shared a few family wisdoms with my husband. He maintained that he’d learned only one thing in all those years: it is impossible for a man to follow the twists and turns of a female mind. “The leaps her mind is able to take!” he said reverently. He also used to make fun of us good-naturedly, saying that he established during the many decades that it was enough to listen and react to just 30% of what we were saying. The rest, my mother would clarify, was background noise. Ah, the concept! What is it exactly? Now I would explain to our adult children. In the morning, when we are already wide awake, ready to sail out and tackle the world, the Man may emerge bleary-eyed, half-asleep. Yes, there is a difference between the states of half-awake and half-asleep.  So in the morning he is not “all here” though he functions: he takes the kids to school, goes to his lab, and answers questions if any. My long-married friend says, “If you want him to pick up something in the evening, tell him in detail, make him repeat it back, twice; maybe you’ll get the desired result». If he comes home for lunch, he is clearly mentally at his lab, often not reacting to anything around him. In the evening he is exhausted, though he is still functional if, say, some help with the kids’ homework is needed or something is to be repaired or some heavy lifting is necessary.

Multitasking is a notion invented by and for women. We can, say, bake a cake or make soup while reading or writing an article or grading students’ papers. As in a joke, only a woman is capable of waking up the kids, making breakfast, sending them off to school washing and cleaning up, then putting on her work outfit, making up her face and going to her full-time job, all after a late-night party and a hangover. So what about all those 30% and background noise? Well, if we are silent at dinner for instance, the man may suddenly notice it and start worrying or even see it as the silent treatment. My mother was very talkative by nature, so she would tell stories and fill in any pauses all the time. I got the main idea early, but it was much more difficult for me until I started lecturing at university. This occupation naturally turned me into a professional chatterbox. When the need arises I can switch on a recording of sorts and go on for two periods, 45 minutes each. Yes, I can pause and listen to others. Maintaining a sensible light witty conversation is an acquired skill. When it is just us, we really talk, exchange our daily news, discuss children, make plans. As my parents, we never argued in front of the kids; rather we worked out a joint platform and always presented a united front. Like me and my sister, they used to think that we never disagreed. When my husband is really tired after a long day I prattle along while he has his meal, sharing unimportant trivia. I know he does not hear everything, and there really is no need for that. This is true background noise, the comforting sounds which accompany his weekday meals. It is my voice he likes hearing, my little news which make him smile. Statistics tell us that 85% of men say they prefer to see their spouse’s face on the pillow next to theirs when they wake up. I’m not sure what the other 15% prefer to see, nor do I know why it is always men who are asked such questions. Women should be polled too. The percentage would probably be the same. I mean, no sane happily married woman wants to wake up next to Brad Pitt or Will Smith, great actors though they are.

Whenever there are visitors for dinner, I dip into what is known as my Oxford Pockets. This is a funny family story. One morning I swam back to consciousness early in the morning and said aloud, still drowsy, “Oxford pockets!” Naturally my family never let me forget that mysterious phrase. Since then we extract lots of things from those mythical pockets. There are funny stories about our trips which I can retell mechanically; usually guests react with the same kind of experiences, and thus we keep the conversation flowing. If they have children and grandchildren, we share our parental experiences, worries and hopes; there is always an immediate connection. We don’t have to ask if people have kids, usually it is apparent from their remarks and actions. “You like Disney characters?” a woman inquired with a polite smile. “Oh, that’s Mom & Dad, our daughter gave us the same toys!” a man exclaimed when he saw our Mickey and Minnie sitting side by side on a shelf.

Yes, I know a few men who can talk non-stop, often very loudly, not allowing anyone else to insert a word. Naturally there are such women too. The concept of creating background noise, the ability to provide some light conversation, a distraction from the daily cares and worries, has served me well for many years. It is a good addition to serious exchanges of opinions and important discussions.



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