My daughter, who is now in first grade, likes to tell me things. This is a big change from the past 12 years, during which I have had to bribe, blackmail, and badger each precious monosyllable from my older sons. Just yesterday, I had this conversation with my 7th grader after school.
Me: How was your day?
Me: Normal..good? Normal-bad?
Jake: Just normal.
Me: Okay..how was..gym?
Me: What did you do?
And so on.
One might conclude from this exchange that Jake is entering that turd-like phase of adolescence when children basically do their best to thwart their parents at every turn in order to punish them for committing the crime of bringing them into existence. But we have been having similar conversations since he was 4 and I was picking him up from preschool. He is, like many, a man of few words.
Which is why I am so excited to pick my daughter up from the bus stop every day. She answers every single one of my questions in a satisfactory, descriptive way. She even offers unasked for tidbits, such as this one from yesterday:
Anna: Today we learned Give is an oddball.
Me (thinking hard): Okay…is ‘Give’ one of your classmates?
Ann: No, silly! it doesn’t follow the rules so it’s an oddball.
Me (triumphantly): OH! You mean the word “give!”
Anna: Yes, it’s not pronounced with a long “I” even though it has a silent E!
Me: That’s right! You’re so smart! And talkative! I love you!
After that conversation I felt strangely elated, yet relieved, like I had just dodged a bullet, and an incident from last year popped into my mind. Anna was sitting in her car seat, happily looking out the window, when she asked me, “Mommy, do you remember when we went to that place where they had the green bench? And that girl was there with brown hair? And we played on that big thing?”
And, I unfortunately replied, “Um..no. Can you tell me more about it? Which girl? What did we do there?”
She went on: “The GIRL with BROWN HAIR. And we PLAYED. The BENCH was GREEN. Remember?”
My stupid response: “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”
She was poleaxed. “MOMMY! HOW CAN YOU NOT REMEMBER! WE PLAYED ON THAT THING! AND SAT ON THE BENCH! WITH THE GIRL!”
Desperately, I explained, “Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about! I’m sorry but I just don’t know!”
Things went downhill from there. Her loud and tearful accusations about how I never remember ANYTHING and HOW COULD I NOT KNOW what she was TALKING ABOUT were accompanied by some surprisingly powerful angry kicks at the back of my seat to punish me for my willful refusal to REMEMBER.
With this memory came the uncomfortable epiphany that all the details my daughter lovingly and generously bestow on me have a price. I shudder to think what might happen if she tells me something and I don’t understand it, or asks me if I remember something and I can’t. The back of my driver’s seat still bears the scuff marks from her Mary Janes. She’s bigger and stronger now and wears tennis shoes. Yikes.
So, I have accepted the fact that I am required to both decipher all of the tidbits she shares AND file them away meticulously in my head for recall at any moment. Or at least provide a convincing appearance of doing so.
I go to the bus stop again today at 3:55 PM armed with my newfound understanding, and I am prepared when she hops off the bus, runs over to me and launches into a detailed description of gym class. Apparently, they played that game where they had to pretend to be magic beans and stay inside a circle and if they got knocked out of the circle then they had to go to jail… “remember that game?” she asks me expectantly.
“YES!” I say loudly. (I don’t)
“You LOVE that game! “ I guess. Shot in the dark, but she sounded enthusiastic.
She huffs back at me, “No, mommy, GRACE loves that game. I only like it when we get to pick teams, and today the teacher ASSIGNED the teams, and I had to be with JAMES.”
She looks at me expectantly. Okay, I can’t mess this one up. I study her face. She looks…indignant.
“Oh…NO!?” I say tentatively.
“I know, right?” she says. “I was so upset I didn’t even PLAY until Carolina said she would stay right by me the whole time.”
Okay. This might be important. Time to go out a limb.
“Umm…remind me about why you don’t like James?” I said mildly.
Her eyes get wide and her eyebrows go up. Uh-oh. “Mom! I LIKE James, it’s just when he’s playing with Trevor, he gets really rough, and I don’t like it..”
“And Trevor was on your team too!” I finish triumphantly. Mother of the Year!
When she stops and puts a hand on her hip I know I have grossly miscalculated.
“MOM!” she scoffs. “Trevor isn’t even in the same CLASS!” She looks at me in disgust.
Damn, flew too close to the sun on that one.
I try an experiment.
I say nothing.
There is a short pause, presumably while she reflects on my incompetence, and then she resumes her monologue:
“..so CJ was on my team, and he’s really rough and I was afraid that James would be rough too, but he wasn’t so it was ok. But then, Carolina had to go to jail, and she was upset, but then Abigail went and set her free so she was happy again…”
And so, I realize as we slowly make our way up the street to our house, that my job is really very simple. I am required to listen.
I can do that.