Translation

Imagine this scene, one that has taken place countless times over the years:

I’m driving down the road, handling errands and providing transport for the family as always. Mom-in-law is riding shotgun, two or three kids in the back, ages from 10 to 20. I’m listening to some music or some talk radio, and tossing off a comment or a reply to the others as they speak to me.

Then I realize they’re speaking to ME. All of them. Simultaneously. And I’m fielding the conversation and returning it smoothly, seamlessly, comment by comment, line by line.

And I realize it’s always been that way, for years. It just took me a while to notice. No wonder I’ve taken a job as a switchboard operator and receptionist! I’ve been routing calls and telling people what to do all my life, haven’t I!

Why do they do that? How is it they don’t notice?

Mom is babbling on and on about some family incident or maybe church people. Youngest pipes up with a school happening. Middle child tosses in his commentary and eldest asks me about something else entirely.

I play with it. I take all their questions/comments, all delivered pretty much simultaneously, and my answer is like "Yes, she did right no you should take that test you did the same thing when you were younger maybe after we do Grandma’s errand."

And they each grab the phrase that answers their particular concern, and they all lob me another line. Simultaneously, like a Greek chorus chanting away in the background behind Rush Limbaugh.

"You never stop loving your children, but you hate it when they fall into sin…"
"Can we go to the Mall?"
"I need to get some new shoes anyway."
"We need to go to Wal-Mart first."

To which I reply, all in a stream, "Yeah, you love them but sometimes you don’t like them very much I hate the Mall try a less expensive store first I hate Wal-Mart too but at least it’s cheaper than the Mall."

"I prayed, I asked the Lord to make him see the light, but nothing ever changed until I was willing to stop adding ‘But please don’t hurt him’…"
"But there’s a Pay-Less at the Mall…"
"Yeah, and a Smoothie-King!"
"I need my shampoo!"

To which I reply, again, in a rush with no punctuation… dang it, I was trying to listen to the radio…

"Yeah, he saw some light in that hospital room alright OK, I’ll drop you three off for the shoes and the Smoothie bring me out a Muscle Punch before you take off I’ll go on to Wal-Mart with Grandma and get the shampoo we’ll be back in two hours."

Somehow that satisfies them. Dunno why they all need to talk to me and not to each other. Makes me seem like the hub of the family wheel don’t it.

I’m the audio translator, too. Somehow, when I’m occasionally not the target of the talk, they do talk to each other, but they often don’t understand each other. I find myself relaying what they said in the car, front seat to back, back to front, or across the dinner table.

As far as I know, they’ve all got decent hearing, even The Spouse. Why does the same exact phrase repeated in my voice suddenly become more understandable?

People do that at work, too. We’re an international company, with people from all over the world, who are all well-educated folk but whose accents in English could serve as brick mortar. I myself speak only English, and that not exactly the Queen’s English.

So why do I, with the bits of French picked up from Cajun relatives, and my smidgen of Sesame Street Spanish, comprehend what’s being said before other people do? I don’t even begin to understand the technical jargon (it’s an oil production related company), and yet there I am, almost serving as a translator between callers and employees, clients and co-workers.

It’s a useful skill to have, I know, whether at home or the office, but it’s not exactly an easy thing to quantify and define for a resume, is it? Am I just better with body language and facial expression? What’s the deal?

And with this talent, I wonder why the heck I enjoy chatting and message boards on the ‘Net so much? There’s no tone of voice or posture for me to glean anything from, there.

My theory is, it’s because that sort of communication frees me from my "translator" duties. I’m free to be only me when I’m here writing, talking with you.