Selective hearing challenges listening

I have selective hearing.

By some definitions, this means I’m wired to decide what to hear and what to ignore, although the ignoring isn’t on purpose. Not usually.

I might not necessarily be hearing the main thing that’s being said — what I should be focusing my attention on — but I’ll definitely hear the background stuff, because it’s suddenly very distracting to me, even if it’s not all that loud.

Kind of like a mosquito buzzing in your ear.

I was reminded of this during a recent phone conversation with my sister Cathy.

We were talking, which is not what you’d categorize as stop-the-presses kind of news, because we talk a lot to each other on the phone. We’d have no fingertips left if we communicated exclusively through texting.

Our idea of touching base takes a minimum of 90 minutes, which always amazes Better Half, a man of few words who is not a telephone talker. To him, a phone is like a hot, hot potato to the touch. Say what you’ve got to say really, really fast, be done with it and don’t get burned.

Or it could be a timed Olympic event for him. Hello, message, goodbye, gold medal!

So, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, talking and listening to my sister, a.k.a. Chatty Cathy, and then suddenly, all I could hear was Better Half, who was nearby, struggling, it seemed, to remove a stubborn tab from an aluminum can.

Our son Adam, meanwhile, was in the vicinity, squashing an empty water bottle in anticipation of recycling it.

Tab struggling and bottle squashing were all I heard instead of solutions to world problems and family updates from Chatty Cathy. Important stuff.

Without interrupting this phone conversation, I frowned and gave them my mad mom look that translated suggested that they really, really should find somewhere else to be other than in my phone-conversation midst.

That similar scenario plays out from time to time in the newsroom where I’m about to have a phone interview and someone nearby begins a casual conversation, not necessarily loud or intrusive and yet it’s what I hear with more clarity than anything else.

I usually make a face of the mad mom variety and wave a hand or two in the air to try to nip it in the bud, which probably doesn’t do much for my office popularity.

Better Half agrees with my self-diagnosis, that I have selective hearing and don’t always hear everything, for example, that he has to say to me.

He’ll be talking and then say, “OK, I guess I’ll just talk to myself,” which is my cue to pay attention and start listening.

I guess I’m guilty of assuming I hear all the important stuff.

After all, I hear the call for dinner.

No problem.

The cleanup call I struggle with, because I assume it’s under control, courtesy of a tab-struggling husband and a water bottle-squashing son.

When I discover dinner dishes are done, I usually say, “Oh, you should have said something.”

Sometimes it pays not to pay attention.

(Kiaski, a resident of Richmond, is a staff columnist and community editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at