We were shuffling down the school corridor at the end of the day, Mae and Haze holding hands with bent arms that extended and contracted at just the right moments to weave around teachers and avoid tripping over stray backpacks. Their haphazard precision denied me the excitement of going to the nurse’s office to get a cold compress for their head after it met an ajar fire extinguisher door. Why the door at all? A symbol that it is only to be used in extreme cases? If it were left open, would people start more fires? With no alarm, could we handle the situation ourselves?
It is while I was behind, next to, and in front of them, wincing while witnessing near misses, that I took advantage of this opportune moment to ask Mae “How was your day?” On my third try she stopped abruptly, jerking sister to a halt, and with a slight, what I perceived, manufactured cower said, “Well, I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
I’m guessing the sound of my gulp was inaudible, absorbed by the chaos, but that was a tough phrase for me to swallow. It has nothing to do with what she would say next, and everything to do with the fact that she was afraid to share something with me.
Why would she fear discussing a reasonable kindergarten indiscretion? My only guess, because, I am the Grand Inquisitor. I have a pointy hat and everything.
Unlike her mom, who is a master of listening and moving on, I, blaming it on my natural curiosity, bombard people with questions. A simple “I talked during quiet time.” can elicit “To who? Why? Were you asked to be quiet? Did you get in trouble? What will you do next time?” And so on and so on. I can’t help myself.
This time was different, kind of. In an effort to listen without speaking and concentrating on not asserting my adult value judgment on a child’s dilemma, I simply nodded when she said, “I talked during quiet time.”
We made our way outside to the wagon, red pulling not station. Questions were stacking in my mind, filling my head, and forcing hair follicles into fresh air that they haven’t seen for years. I felt the need to push, push, push, with questions, but I held strong with my back to them while I pull, pull, pulled them home.
Maybe a quick “Who were you talking to?” that would be fine, right? “No, leave it alone” I muttered to myself.
We got home, shared “down time” (a.k.a. having a freezy pop on the kitchen floor), and in our moment of calm I asked her to share one “cool” thing from the day and one thing we could have done better. She paused, gave her famous Mae scratch of the chin and said, “I saw a giant grasshopper. It was like this and this (her hands showing the shape), aaaand I talked to a friend during quiet time, the teacher almost moved my behavior clothespin down, but I stopped and that was it.” the words rattled out of her mouth. I responded by saying “I played bubbles with Haze and want to listen better. What color was the grasshopper?”
I want our “parental door” to be open, not just half way, and certainly not shut only leaving our kids guessing. No bells, no sirens, no “who did that” sounding when they share their days. They don’t have to use a metal mallet or replace a goo fill cartridge to get at us. Any fire that they may start will be greeted with a calm reach for my parental foam; we will “spray” the situation together, come to an understanding of how it started, and move on. I don’t think more fires will occur as a result, I foresee future blazes prevented by a healthy understanding of lessons learned. Obviously, this is not a done deal, perfection is ridiculous, but it is something we will work towards. And, I am sure, it will dramatically shift when they become teenagers.
As for the questions, I’m learning that showing interest in their day does not have to come right away or be asked about in an interrogative way, it can be calm, comfortable, and center around the coolness of a freezy pop – when they’re ready.
Andrew Meyer is a Special Education teacher from Madison, Wisconsin, whose wife’s job relocation changed their family roles and physical location. He's now a stay-at-home dad in Madison, Alabama, to two awesomely creative, sometimes challenging, and mostly sweet five and two-year-old girls who fill his days, nights, and in-between spaces. When with or without them, he writes, works-out, wonders, wishes he wouldn’t worry, wrestles with his wife’s commitment to her job, and listens to music. You can also find him at www.papasense.wordpress.com, on Twitter @papasense, and Facebook.