If you know me at all, you know I’m a talker. I’d like to think I’m also a listener but when it comes to my kids, it’s been difficult to find a balance. My children’s chatter either comes in gushing waves or meager dribbles.
My boys (ages 5, 7 and 11) have gone through many talking turns. When they were babies, I was so eager for them to babble I hung on their every noise. Then came the mind-numbing toddler period when they understood everything but were not yet able to articulate needs and ideas so they just screeched at me all day, as if their muteness was my fault.
I yearned for them to find their little voices so they could tell me things…like how much they appreciated me for cleaning up that milk they just spilled for the 40th time.
Soon enough they were speaking in spades….and didn’t stop: “Mommy, why is that fire truck in front of us? Where’s it going? Who’s driving it? What’s his name? Where does he live? Is he wearing his helmet??”
For my guys-- from about two and a half to five years old--there was a geyser of words perpetually flowing out of their little mouths. They were full of questions and stories and tales so tall they burst through the roof. It was alternatively adorable (“Mommy, my best friends are Batman, Superman, Spiderman, my brothers, Uncle Jonny, my teachers, Dora, Diego…) and ridiculous (“…in school my teacher lets me eat cookies and candy and take my shoes off in the mud and play with guns, and put sand in my ears and …..” )
When my older boys hit kindergarten someone must have told them— probably on the school bus where all rogue ideas flourish-- that talking to parents about their lives was no longer allowed.
Just when they were finally out of my hair, I started to miss having them around. I yearned to hear their every thought as soon as they thought it. I wondered what they were doing all day without me. I craved details about lessons, meals, and recess.
Now they come home and it’s taxing to get any information out of them. If I ask about school, I get the obligatory, “Fine. Good. Bad. Boring…..” but no clue as to what’s really going on.
I am forever on a quest to squeeze any juice out of my kids on the happenings of the day, and their opinion on friends, teachers, and activities. It’s a challenge to grab their attention, as they get easily annoyed at my questions, no matter how coyly I disguise them.
One effective way I have found to connect with my kids is asking them to name the best and worst parts of their day. We usually do it at dinner, right when the initial eating is over and they are getting antsy to move on from this structured activity where they are forced to sit still for more than ten minutes.
They are usually eager to share an incident from the day that I would never normally hear. I try to hide my glee and act breezy when 11-year-old Jacob drops a nugget like, “Johnny likes Susie and they always sit in Jefferson library together.” That leaves it wide open for me to ask if he likes anyone. He knows that, so it’s his way of telling me it’s ok to ask.
Sometimes I have to hold back from showing too much emotion when they reveal something, so I don’t scare them off like a startled deer in the woods. When seven-year-old Aden got teary telling me a girl was swiping part of his lunch every day, my desire to slug said girl was dwarfed by sympathy for him and a promise to write a note to his teacher. Five-year-old Eli always demands to go first but then panics and has nothing to say, which is still cute.
They even ask the best and worst of my day sometimes and are frequently surprised by the fact that I have a life while they are at school.
First Lady Michelle Obama said in a recent interview that she plays the game with her girls too, but they call it the “Rose and Thorn” of the day. I’m not sure the flower imagery will appeal to my squirts but perhaps we can adjust to “Tackles and Touchdowns.”
Whatever you call the exercise, I highly recommend it to parents who want a little window into their child’s daily world.