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Macho Madness Little Ears, Big Ears
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It's a constant battle. It's been an issue for generations, with both sides using the latest in technology, psych-ops, and state of the art equipment.

The battlefield is constantly evolving, with one side making advances at times only to lose ground to their opponent when new intelligence is discovered. Like spies during the Cold War, the participants do their best to keep the other side in the dark, or conversely, to crack the code so they can uncover secrets.

What I am describing, of course, is parents trying to hold a conversation in front of their children.

Or, as we used to call it in my house, The Big Ears That Are Always Listening.

It starts when your children first begin to talk. My daughter, Rachel, and her husband, Danny, are just now discovering this with my granddaughter, Maddie. Maddie might seem preoccupied, but if any of us happens to mention the word 'outside,' Maddie will hone in like a heat seeking missile, wanting to go into the backyard.

Rachel is currently visiting from Spokane with Maddie and my grandson, Gavin, and she recently reminded me of the technique my wife, Donnelle, and I used to counter the Big Ears.

The solution we came up with?


Police officers use a phonetic alphabet when talking on the radio, as transmissions are often hard to understand. So instead of attempting to spell a name or relay a license plate number where the Bs, Vs, Es, etc., sound alike, we would use a phonetic alphabet.

For example, A, B, C would be Adam, Boy, Charles.

We stumbled on the idea after Rachel learned to spell. Prior to then, we could simply spell out a word to each other, confident Rachel or our son, Kevin, would have no idea what our conversation entailed.

But when Rachel discovered spelling, it became tougher.

Driving home from somewhere and wanting to stop for ice cream was the big test. You can't say the words ice cream with a couple kids in the car without a riot breaking out. Spelling it out was easy and quick.

But then, Rach upped the ante. Being able to recall and sound out letters, it might take her a few minutes, but she would eventually figure it out.

Hearing her dad ask her mom, "Ida Charles Edward, Charles Robert Edward Adam Mary?" on the other hand, would leave her with a puzzled look on her face.

"Who are you talking about?" she might ask, not having a clue as to our conversation.

This technique was so successful, it lasted well through their teen years. In fact, we didn't fess up until our kids were young adults.

But this got me to thinking.

What are parents doing these days to keep their kids in the dark?

I asked some moms around the paper, and learned parents today are pretty crafty. One mom said she and her husband speak Spanish in front of their kids, but admitted to being concerned as their daughter recently spent the summer with relatives in Mexico and has begun to pick up the language. Another said she and her husband relied on pig-latin. One of my coworkers said she and her husband communicate with a lot of facial expressions and key words.

I asked one of my colleagues who manages Oakdale's Mommy Musings Facebook Page to ask her readers their strategies in dealing with bright kids.

The responses showed parents, for the most part, still have the upper hand these days.

Techniques such as finger spelling, code words, or only spelling the first three letters of a word are all being utilized to defeat little Big Ears. One mom spoke of having her kids "take a little walk, where I could see them of course," when having discussions with friends, a variation of the 'ear muffs' technique. This is when a parent tells the child "ear muffs," and the little one puts his hands over his ears. Not terribly reliable, of course, when the child figures out he can fake it and listen.

One of the more creative responses was using text messages to communicate. Brilliant!

But as one person responded, sometimes you just give up.

"Once they can spell we move on to another language; once they understand that we realize there are no more private conversations unless they are, a) completely knocked out, b) at school and we are not, or c) we don't have private conversations any more."

Which shows that technology and craftiness aside, the struggle continues ...

Craig Macho is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at or by calling 847-3021.