Talk to Me

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Last month I took my oldest daughter on a weekend “Mommy Date.” It’s amazing how quickly you go from being with your kids all the time to feeling like you never see them. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you). This year, between all-day kindergarten and activities and three younger children, my big girl and I don’t have much time together. And this is a girl who needs a lot of time.

This Mommy Date was a combination of consumerism and sugar: I took her to T.J. Maxx to use the spending money she’d saved up (Her choice: an ENORMOUS plush horse purse. Totally practical.), and then to the bakery for lemonade and brioche (She’s moved on from cookies. I blame Fancy Nancy.)

I’ve had enough of these Mommy Dates to know not to expect any deep, quality conversation. In my experience, when you load down a Mommy Date with the expectation that there’s going to be some sort of meaningful relationship breakthrough, you’ll almost always be disappointed. On previous Mommy Dates I’ve  asked probing questions about my daughter’s deepest thoughts and feelings, only to be answered with monosyllabic grunts. (The really meaningful conversations always seem to happen in the middle of the bedtime story that I’m trying to rush through because bedtime is running 20 minutes late.)

This is Example #5,784 of How My Daughter is NOT Like Me. When I was growing up, I wore my heart on my sleeve, especially when talking with my mother. I told her everything: my deepest thoughts, dreams, fears. In retrospect, of course, there was a negative side to this openness; it’s a wonder that my mother had so much patience with me, and I learned pretty quickly after getting married that I couldn’t expect the same kind of fascination with all things ME from my poor husband.

But because I was such a confessional child, I can’t understand — I worry a little, in fact — when my daughter keeps her cards so close to her chest.

For instance, one day she came home from school holding a sweet little apology note (“I sorry becase I ben mean.”) from one of her good friends. It turns out that the day before, this girl had taken my daughter’s seat at a table, there was a dispute, and mean things were said. Now, the friendship was repaired. And this was the first I was hearing of it.

“How did you feel about this yesterday?” I asked. “Did it bother you?”

“No,” my daughter shrugged.

“Well, friend things can be hard sometimes. But, you know, when things like this happen you can always talk to me about it.” I said.

“I know, Mommy,” my daughter replied, practically rolling her eyes “I AM talking to you about it.”

She had me there. But she was telling me about it after the fact. When I was her age, I’d have come home from school in tears and spent half the night reviewing the dispute with my mother. It’s hard for me to believe that any child of mine could be so…stoic.

When I hear about these things after the fact, it makes me wonder what I don’t hear about. My mother had one child; there aren’t enough hours in the day for all four of my daughters to share with me the way I did with my own mother — even if they wanted to.

But there we were at our cozy little table in the bakery, munching our brioche. This time, between sips of coffee, I asked simple, fact-based questions. “What’s your favorite favorite thing to do in school?” “What friends are you really enjoying these days?” “What do you guys like to play on the playground?”

And with that last question, I hit the jackpot.

My daughter talked and talked — easily a 10-minute monologue — about the games that she and her friends play during recess. On the surface, it was the superficial ramblings of a kindergartener, but embedded in her chatting were revealing details about who she likes, the kindergarten social structure, and where she sees herself fitting in. Bottom line: It sounds like the kids are all right.

So, I’m coming around to a new way of thinking as we enter this latest stage with our daughters — this stage in which they’re out of sight for so much of each day, and I rely on their own reporting on their lives away from home. I’m thinking that it’s okay for my daughters to be different from me; if they’re happy to tell me about issues only after they’ve been resolved, so be it. And if there are things about which I never hear, so be it, too. Their mental and emotional health do not hinge on whether they report back on every detail of their lives.

As with so much of parenting, I need to take a deep breath, open my hands, and just trust.

What I can do is be available. And keep asking silly questions. And keep my ears open to really hear their answers.

Open hands, open ears: not a bad mantra for parents.

Guess I’d better increase my brioche budget….

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