For years, I’ve asked my kids the same uninspired question when I pick them up from school: How was your day? And for years, they’ve answered with the same uninspired answer: Fine. In fact, we’ve been round and round on this so many times that last year my daughter begged me to please stop asking how her day was because, “It makes me want to scream. No offense or anything, Mom.” Okay, fair enough. No offense taken. That question wasn’t pulling its weight anyway.
I needed a better way to get at what exactly was going on with my kids at school and more importantly how it made them feel. (I am big into how things make my kids feel, much to their continued aggravation.) So I, like any good parent in the digital age, turned to the Internet for advice. And the Internet heeded my call! When I typed in “how to ask kids about their school day,” Google showed me list after list of questions I could ask my kids that, Google promised, would really get them talking. These questions would be the key that would unlock the secret world of my children’s innermost hopes and dreams. They would make our bond stronger, our love deeper, and bring us closer together than ever before. I wanted the key to that world! I wanted to be closer than ever before!
So I read article after article and synthesized the information to create one super list. And I got in my car and drove to school ready to be transported inside their teenage brains. I have transcribed the conversation that followed:
- What did you eat for lunch?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
Um, no. This is middle school. Nobody does anything super nice for anyone.
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
Didn’t I just answer that?
- Who made you smile today?
Mom, are you okay?
- Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse?
Is this for a new book your writing?
- Did anyone push your buttons today?
Other than you?
- Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
I thought we weren’t supposed to gossip?
- What challenged you today?
- When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
That joke about this conversation was pretty good.
- Tell me about a new word you heard at school today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What new fact did you learn today?
Time is relative. For example, this car ride home- while technically only five minutes long- feels like an eternity.
- If aliens came to school and beamed up three kids, who do you wish they would take?
Seriously Mom, are you having some sort of crisis? Should we call Dad?
- Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
The bus schedule.
As you can see, the conversation didn’t give me any special insight into their world. Or take our bond to new heights. Or bring us closer together. At one point, my daughter faked being asleep to avoid answering any more questions. But it did get us talking— granted, mostly about how weird I was— but still. We talked, we laughed, we made fun of me, and then we all went inside and had a snack. And I figure that’s better than nothing. . . and certainly better than “fine.”
Let’s face it: Most of us are not raising professional athletes. Most of us are probably not even raising college athletes. Competition being what it is these days, I think most of us are going to be lucky to raise an intramural athlete. So the sports-induced craziness seen at the courts, fields, and tracks on any given weekend seems a bit excessive to me.
I was recently at my son’s basketball game and a woman whose child was on the other team kept yelling, “C’mon guys-you’re bigger than them! You’re stronger than them! You’re better than them! Win the ball! Win the ball! WIN IT!” I should mention that at the time they were crushing us by like 50 points. Everyone in the whole gym could hear her – but I had to wonder, could she hear herself? Was she just so caught up in the Sunday morning drama of a midsized, regional, U12 basketball tournament that she lost sight of the fact that she was yelling insults at children? And that isn’t the worst thing that has happened, by a long shot. Everyone I know has a story about adults coming to blows, or cussing coaches, or making kids cry during games. This kind of child sports-induced mania is, sadly, becoming a cultural norm.
To combat this, I’ve made a list of some things you might want to keep in mind as you watch your child in his or her sport of choice. If you already know these things, then you might want to cut this out and slip it to that red-faced parent sitting next to you on the bleachers. You know, in the spirit of goodwill. I have titled this list: It’s Just a Game: Calm the @%&* Down
- There is a 99.993% chance that your kid is not going pro. Calm the @%&* down.
- Unless your shirt says “Coach” on it, you are not the Coach. If you aren’t clear on what this means, it means that during a game you should not be yelling instructions to the players. No matter how vital you believe your advice to be.
- The only words you should ever say to a referee are, “Thank you.” They are doing their best. Even when they may make a mistake, it is almost never on purpose. Calling games isn’t a science; sometimes a bad call works in your favor, other times it doesn’t. File this under the category: Life ain’t fair.
- Your child should address their concerns with their coach by themselves. You should not get in your kid’s coach’s face with complaints about playing time, position assignments, or coaching decisions. If your child has a question, they should address it themselves. If they can’t, then either A.) They aren’t old or mature enough to be in competitive sports, B.) It isn’t that important to them, or C.) They’ll learn the very important lesson that they won’t get answers to questions they don’t ask. Either way, you asking for them isn’t helping anyone.
- Your kid is watching you as much as you are watching them. You know those turdlets who make nasty comments to other players on the field during a game? This is a learned behavior. I’ll bet you a year’s supply of Reduced-fat Pringle’s that their parents are doing the same thing on the sidelines.
- You should never say anything to anyone else’s kid other than a compliment. I’ve heard parents yell things at kids on the other team that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. This is never, ever okay. Even if the little bugger raked his cleat against your son’s Achilles. You are the adult, and as such you must refrain from name-calling. (An unfortunate, but undeniable, artifact of adulthood.)
- You are not on ESPN. If you find yourself reporting your child’s stats to anyone who didn’t specifically ask, you should stop. Immediately. At best, this is totally uninteresting; at worst, it is supreme douchebaggery.
- Your child is not as good – or bad – as you think they are. You tuck them into bed at night. You take care of them when they’re sick. When you look at them, you can still see the sweet little three year-old they used to be. You cannot possibly form an objective assessment of their abilities at sports or anything else. It is a good thing this is not your job.
- Win or lose, the lessons are the same. The 25 year-old version of your child will probably not need the technical skills they are learning in their sport of choice. But they will need to know how to be a team player, how to lose gracefully, how to win gracefully, how to show up when they don’t want to, how to stand in someone else’s shadow, how to work with difficult people, how to know when it’s time to lead and when it’s time to follow. They may not become professional athletes, but they will become citizens of this world. And they will use the lessons they learned playing sports during this magnificent ball game we call life.
- There are only 6 words a parent needs to say to their kid after a game: “I love to watch you play.” This has actually been documented by researchers and other sciencey-people. Plus, it just makes good sense. Our kids just want us to have fun watching them. They want us to be proud. They want us to be there. They want us to be happy. (But I think if you’d ask them, they’d also say that above all, they want us to be… quiet.)
Listening to a parent talk about how talented, smart, good-looking, entrepreneurial, kind-hearted, clever, and/or athletic their kid is is a lot like listening to a politician give a stump speech. You nod your head. You affirm enthusiastically. And you automatically discount everything they’ve just said. Indeed, if you are a cynic, you believe that the kid’s virtues probably lie in inverse proportion to how they are being described. And if you are a true iconoclast, you think the kid must be a total zero and you try to point this out to their gushing parents.
Don’t waste your time. Most parents think that they know their kids better than anyone else in the world. And while most of us know on an intellectual level that we can’t be an impartial judge of our children’s behavior, we still think that our unique perspective gives us the ability to see our kids as they really are.
Most of the time, we are wrong. Some of the time we are right. But right or wrong, the one thing we never are is objective. Objectivity requires a certain level of distance and detachment. And it’s hard to be detached from someone who sleeps in your bed, opens the door while you go to the bathroom, and takes money out of your wallet. It just is.
So we start our sentences with, “Well, I know I’m totally biased but…” Because as much as we know that we’re not a fair judge of our children, that doesn’t stop us from judging. If you’re not a total doochebag, you at least give the appearance of a balanced view– you present the good, the bad, and the ugly about your child. But then there are those who stick to the good, the noteworthy, and the so-impressive-you’ll-start-to-question-your-own-childs-contributions-to-society. This is where the line between “objective” commentary and bragging gets blurred.
The Out & Out Brag
Some parents brag outright. “We suspect Jonathan has a true gift for painting. His paintings are a lot like Jackson Pollack’s early work.” Never mind that the diarrhea-brown mess of splats and drips they use as evidence looks like something your dog hacked up. You dutifully oooo and ahhhh because there is no use in pointing out that their son sucks at finger painting. He’s four and he sucks at an age-appropriate level. What’s the harm in letting them believe they are raising the next Picasso? Reality is the great equalizer and eventually they’ll be forced to see the light at the end of the color-blind tunnel.
The Me-Too Brag
Then there are those who like to work in a brag on themselves while talking up their kids, “Salman just got accepted into the gifted program. I mean, we’re not surprised, both Albert and I were in the gifted programs when we were young.” Or, “Yeah, tennis was always my sport. It’s so gratifying to see Venus showing promise at such a young age.” Puke. Not only do these people feel compelled to brag about their kid, but they also want you know that they too are exceptional.
The Brag in Sheep’s Clothing
Others are subtler. “I can’t believe I have to go in to talk to Simon’s teachers again. He keeps finishing all the books they give in record time! He is going to have to start on War & Peace soon!” This is a brag dressed up as a complaint. Totally annoying. No one is going to feel sorry for you that your son is so bright and is such a fast reader. Boo. We know what you’re doing. A brag in sheep’s clothing is still just a brag… or a braaaaaag. (I know. I’m sorry.)
The Force Brag
I recently had a friend ask me this about his daughter: “Don’t you think that Heidi is an extraordinarily beautiful girl? Like a transcendent sort of beautiful?” Ummm. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I mean I agreed – of course I agreed – she is a darling little thing and I’m not a total monster. But what choice did I have? I would have agreed even if his daughter looked like Quasimodo. What could I say? “No. She looks like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down?” No one is going to say that. My friend committed the worst kind of brag. It was a brag-by-force – the bragging equivalent of holding a gun to my head. He forced me to brag about his kid. This kind of bragging is really only acceptable between parents of the same child, or if done by grandparents who live out of state, the older the better.
The bottom line is that we all brag about our kids. It’s okay. A little bit here and there is fine – it’s like parent catnip. Parenting is hard and if you find something you want to shout from the rooftops, I say go for it. Just don’t abuse it. And try to recognize that as much as you may think you are presenting an accurate assessment of your child, you’re not. You couldn’t possibly. Remember that sage advice from Carrie Fischer’s character in the movie When Harry Met Sally: “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste. ”
The same can be said about children. Everybody thinks that have an exceptional child and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have exceptional children. Or a sense of humor.
Now excuse me. I have to go pick up my children from the Gifted program and take them to their Accelerated Pogo-Sticking course before we head to the soup kitchen so they can give back to their community in a meaningful way. (They are just so empathetic!)
- To talk.
- To crack the eggs into the batter. (Pancakes are not supposed to be crunchy.)
- Sarcasm. I just love it when the kids do as I do, not as I say…
- To play games on my cell phone.
- To read. (If you’ve ever seen a billboard in the state of Missouri, you’re with me on this one.)
- To say please. (See When Good Words Go Bad.)
- To expect that meals will be prepared for them. Everyday.
- The words ‘mine,’ ‘no,’ ‘jiggly,’ and ‘bottom.’
- To tell knock-knock jokes. (And expect me to laugh.)
- To spell. (It’s total b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t that my husband I no longer have a covert means of communication.)
- To listen to the radio. (Thankyouverymuch, Katy Perry, for teaching my seven-year old what a menage-a-trois is.)
- How to tell time. (I sometimes* ache for the days I could say “It’s bedtime!” at 5:30.)
- To use the word ‘really’ as a question.
- To use the DVR. (I now have approximately 97 hours of Phineas & Ferb available for my viewing pleasure.)
- That there is no such thing as a stupid question. (As it turns out, there is.)