Christina M. Currie
Christina M. Currie's Touch of Spice column appears Fridays in the Craig Daily Press. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to learn anything about kids, you don't ask, "How was your day today?" You don't ask, "What do you think about that?"
You don't ask at all.
The best technique I've learned, if you want the real story, is to just be quiet and listen.
Kind of like eavesdropping.
Yes, eavesdropping, which I'm aware is a violation of privacy, but I'm not talking about standing with an empty glass pressed to a door.
When I solicit information from my 8-year-old or 7-year-old daughters, I get a jumbled answer that generally includes the phrase, "I forgot."
But, sitting in the front seat, listening to my girls chat with each other, I learn a lot about my kids.
I learn who their best friends are (which changes quite often), I learn what things interest them (and it's never anything that happens inside the classroom) and I learn what their dreams are.
For instance, I learned that 7-year-old Nikki, who begins negotiating for a 10-minute break the minute she hears it's time to clean her room, has no problems cleaning up on a global level.
"I have a busy day tomorrow at recess," she told her sister, Katie.
I don't say anything for fear that she'll forget what her plan is.
"Ashley and Rory and me are getting ready for spring," she said.
Again, silence on my part. No mention of the fact that she's got plenty of time to prepare.
Plenty of time.
"We're picking up all the snow balls and putting them in a pile so they'll melt."
Nikki's in first grade. It'll be awhile before she learns the principles that will lead her to more efficient ways of melting snow.
I couldn't resist.
"What do you do with the rest of the snow?" I asked.
She hesitated. She was near forgetting, I know.
"We kick it around."
So I took a chance.
"What did you do at school today?" I asked Katie.
"We don't really play anything," she said.
Of course not. I should have known.
So, I closed my mouth and just kept driving.
A minute later, I heard Katie telling Nikki, "I just try to face my fears, but I can't."
"What are your fears?" Nikki asked her.
"I can't sing in front of anyone!"
Against my better judgment, I interjected, "Katie, performing in front of people is hard. Lots of people are scared of it, but there are things you can do that will help."
She stared blankly.
She had no idea what I was talking about. The minute I entered the conversation, she went blank.
My girls generally are very open.
They like to talk, and they like to share their experiences. Unless I really want to know something. Then they'll withhold it like a treat after dinner.
The key, I'm learning, is to not seem too interested. I just throw in a word or two as prompts to keep them on topic and then sit back and pretend to be only sort-of listening.
Really, it's such a conflict with everything you learn about communicating.
Just like everything else you learn when raising children, communication is a balancing act.
It'll be another 20 years before they admit they value my opinion (if ever), so until then, I'll have to get as creative about giving it as they are about soliciting it.