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It’s a pretty naff cliché, but in our household, our daughter is the chatty one and our son is the silent, thinker-type.
When my daughter gets home from school and is asked how her day was, she can summarise her experience in minute detail, change the subject in the blink of an eye, sweep breathlessly down several diversions, remember to tell me something she forgot to say three days ago, and berate me for putting a babybel in her lunchbox instead of a cheestring, whilst showing me a new tap dance routine, and eating an apple.
Half an hour later, I will realise she is still talking. Probably hasn’t even taken a breath. Breathing is for wimps.
My son, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. Hubby often complains that getting information out of him is like getting blood from a stone.
Even when he was in reception, he didn’t particularly like to talk about school once he’d returned home. Hubby would give him a huge, affectionate, slightly violent welcome and boom, “How was your day?”
The usual response to this would be half a shrug, and a little scrunched up facial grimace.
“What did you DO today?” Hubby would persist.
“Nothing.” And he’d slip away to another room.
Ha. Those darn lazy teachers. Doing ‘nothing’ all day…
This became a problem after a while. Hubby and Son would get quite grumpy about their failed communication attempts, and the end of the school day was often fraught with frowns, pique, and stomping up/down the stairs.
The funny thing is, Hubby always got the same reaction from me too.
One day, after our son had once again claimed he’d done NOTHING at school, and then I’d returned from work and answered Hubby’s question of, “How was your day?” with, “It was OK I guess,” followed by tired silence, Hubby plaintively asked the universe why no one wanted to talk to him.
I thought carefully about why I had an aversion to the question, “What did you do today?”
I realised that when you’ve just walked through the front door of your house, after an exhausting session at work or school, you need to relax and reset. And for me, the best way of relaxing is being left alone, and not having to talk or entertain anyone for a few minutes.
If you are asked what you did that day, you feel obliged to recite a long (and possibly boring) chronological account of the day’s events – literally the LAST thing anyone wants to do after just DOING all that stuff.
It’s a lazy question. It requires no thought or special attention on the asker’s part. It’s a generic, meaningless query that no one wants to answer truthfully – like ‘How are you?’
I found that asking an indirect question was much more successful with my son. Rather than “How was Maths today?” if I asked, “Did you find out how you did in your algebra test from last week?” (or similar) I’d be rewarded with a much richer reply. He might say yes, or no, but it would also remind him that his friend forgot to hand in his homework, that the teacher had spilled coffee on one of the text books, or he’d tell me that he has another test this Thursday…
Any question that didn’t put him on the spot, and require him to devise a complicated answer worked best. It also showed that I had made a small effort to remember what subjects he had that day, or what his friends had been up to, or who his favourite teacher was.
I also found that he’d be more communicative if I gave him some space in that first half hour after his return. I’d find him a snack or hot chocolate; keep him company, but not speak. Eventually, he’d start cheerfully recounting anecdotes from school, without any prompting from me.
Today was classic ‘son’ material.
Although Hubby tries to avoid the inanity of ‘How was your day?’ – it does still slip out sometimes, and today the answer was, “Meh. Nothing much happened.”
Dear Son disappeared upstairs to change, read a book, do homework or whatever, and didn’t surface again until dinner time.
When we stopped interrogating him and let him speak naturally at his own pace, we found out the following things about his day at school:
The girls in his House won the House hockey tournament.
He was yelled at by a teacher who, on closer inspection, sounds like a relic from the 1950s.
He made Spaghetti Bolognese from scratch - and proved it by producing a slightly squashed silver takeaway box full of pasta. (It was delicious)
He attended Boys’ Choir after a rather long hiatus, and discovered that he’s singing in a concert in two weeks.
He had a French vocabulary test (and got a little creative when his memory failed him).
(This is my favourite one…) He observed a science experiment called ‘The Screaming Jelly Baby’ much to our collective amusement and initial disbelief. It is really a thing! I’ll post a link below. Something to do with potassium chlorate, sugar and noisy, smoky explosions.
Quite an eventful day, in my book!
I realise that my children are edging ever closer to the dreaded teen years; those secretive, surly years; and I will have to hone my communication skills if I want to stay in the loop. And I really DO want to stay in the loop. I want to be the first person my children talk to if they’re in trouble, or upset, or need advice. I want to know enough about their friends and habits that I will be able to trust them to take more responsibility for themselves.
I sense this is a delicate point in our relationship. The balance is shifting gradually. Although I am always going to be their mother, I am not necessarily Matriarch and Supreme Dictator. I want them to sense my faith in them, I want them to make their own decisions, and not rely on me to tell them what to do.
Learning how to question them without invading their privacy or putting them on the defensive, is an ongoing challenge.
Above all, I must remember not to ask the dreaded question, “How was your day?”