The Power of Punctuation

I stayed late at work the other day so that I could give my oldest daughter, Emily, a ride home from athletics. Her practice ended earlier than expected, and she called me to say she was ready. I told her I needed to finish a couple things but would head down to get the car in a few minutes and meet her at the top of the hill.

Ten minutes later, my phone buzzed with a text from Emily as I walked to the car. I glanced down and read, “Are you almost ready??”

I texted her that I was on my way.

I need to confess that when I read Emily’s text, I felt angered by the extra question mark. Ok, I am embarrassed to admit that I let a punctuation mark have that much power, but I felt like she was being impatient and disrespectful.  I entered the ride home with her on the defensive.

Except I didn’t tell her any of this.

By the time we got home, I had closely examined every comment she made in our conversation and when she shared that she felt annoyed by someone at school, I yelled at her about her negativity and lack of patience with everyone in her life.

She gave me a startled look, grabbed her backpack, and walked up to her room.

Later that night, we hopped into the car again to run some errands. The tension was thick between us. I finally told her that I was sorry that I snapped at her earlier, but her text upset me.

Our conversation went something like this:

 “Mom, what text are you talking about?”

“The one where you were being so impatient. I am sorry you had to wait an extra minute for me after practice!”

Again, she said, “Mom, what are you talking about?”

So I sheepishly explained the power of punctuation.

 I explained to her how her text sounded impatient and rude. I felt like I was doing her a favor staying late at work and that she seemed ungrateful when she had to wait for me.

 She giggled a little and said, “Mom, I always use two question marks. I didn’t use them because I was being impatient. I was just wondering if I should come out to the car yet.”


Sometimes I think I need to sign up for a class called, “The Art of Understanding Text Message Tone.”

My next response was something profound like, “Oh.”  I then took a moment to admit that I probably just should have asked about it as soon as she got into the car instead of stewing and reading into everything else that she said.

I share this lovely little story because I think it represents a lot about communication with the people in our lives, or lack of it. Often, a friend or spouse says something that we take in the wrong way and instead of asking about it, we just let it simmer inside our heads until something manageable becomes overgrown and out of control.

Or worse, a friend or co-worker says something that upsets us so instead of talking to them about it, we talk to someone else. We easily vent to someone else, but never give the other person a chance to respond because we refuse to talk to them personally. We see them and smile in the hallway but don’t have the courage to say, “Hi, can I talk to you for a minute?”

I am not saying we need to confront every action or conversation that we don’t agree with. I also believe there is an art to confrontation which includes love, humility, and grace. I could have avoided a miserable ride home with my daughter if I would have just asked, “Why did you send me such a rude text?” And then she could have explained herself immediately. Instead, I chose to let my anger grow into something unmanageable. I assumed that I knew what she meant and never gave her a chance to explain herself.

I know of many friendships and relationships that have ended because one or both people weren’t willing to communicate all that they were feeling in the middle of the conflict. I know it isn’t always easy and issues are often a lot bigger than an extra punctuation mark. Talking about conflict can feel vulnerable especially if both people aren’t willing to enter the conversation. I just don’t want to be the one to avoid the discussion. I want to be open and willing to listen, willing to hear ways that maybe I missed someone I love. Maybe my words or actions hurt someone and I have no idea. I pray I would have eyes to see all that I need to see.

Emily and I were driving to the store yesterday, and I heard her phone beep. She read the text and leaned towards me. “Oh look! She ended her sentence with two question marks! She must be really mad at me.” I shoved her, we both laughed, and I said something that ended with two exclamation points.

FamilyLori Song1 Comment