Our children probably would be shocked if they knew how much time we spend thinking about them, worrying over them and planning for them -- especially since we are often too busy to be with them.
A father in the Dupont Circle area, divorced for two years, spends the time with his 9-year-old, but is still afraid he's losing touch.
"He's so close-mouthed these days," says the father. "We see each other on weekends, but he's either tagging along with my friends, or he wants to bring a buddy along on whatever special excursion I've planned."
A. This is the age when a child confides mostly with his friends, but he still needs parents standing by. The better you talk with each other now, the less rebellous he will be as an adolescent. If you dare to be less close-mouthed yourself, your child will try harder too.
One of the best barrier-breakers we've heard about are the Trips for Fathers and Kids. They are planned between January and May, ranging in price and in time. All would be great for either a boy or a girl -- if you have the cash.
The first, Jan. 10-16, is based at a classy hotel on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Besides the air fare, meals and lodging, it includes a hard-to-get tour of the "Star Trek" set, arranged by the Fonz (Henry Winkler), who will meet the bus at Paramount Studios; a dress rehearsal of a "Happy Days" taping; a tour of an animation studio; a day at Disneyland with a private tour and a lot of coupons; a day on the beach, skate rentals, and best of all -- a lot of free time to spend with your child. These are even baby sitters available if a father wants to go out after his child has gone to bed.
All this for $899 for the fathr (or grandfather, uncle, big brother or family friend); $439 for the child under 12 and $588 for one who is older.
Next, there is a three-day trip to Florida Disney World from Feb. 29-March 2, with one or two days at Disney World; one day at Sea World (including a luau), and an optional day at the Kennedy Space Center. Cost: ($349 for the father and $299 for the child under 12.
The most expensive trip -- and for the outdoors addict, the best -- is a raft ride down the San Juan River in Utah from April 26-May 3, limited to 10 adult-child pairs. The child must be at least 11 years old, but swimming skills aren't essential, since everyone wears a life jackets.
The raft trip begins (and ends) in Cortez, Colo., with five guides giving serious instructions in rafting, first aid and map reading. Everyone takes part in each aspect of the trip: cooking and cleanup; setting up and breaking camp and a lot of paddling. Cost of the trip -- $1,735 for the adult and a child under 12, and $140 extra if he is older -- will take care of all expenses, starting at Dulles and including side trips to nearby canyons and stops for cliff dwellings and pictographs.
And finally: New York, New York! with a train ride there and a plane ride back, from May 16-18. Cost of the trip includes all meals, taxes and tips; orchestra seats to a play; a pool and pizza party at the hotel and escorted tours of Central Park, Chinatown, Rockefeller Center, the Hayden Planetarium, the Empire State building, the World Trade Center, the Guinness Book of World Records Museum, and an on-your-own Sunday afternoon. For this: $510 for parent and child, with another $206 for an extra child.
For a brochure, call Ken Fischer at the Learners' Forum, 362-5391.
The best things about these trips will be the memories they make, but there are a lot of other, cheaper times that still give you things to talk about.
You, for example, build a solidarity by cooking a meal together, so the child is responsible for baking the ham and not just setting the table; by running together, at his pace, or by reading the same books. Few things get a parent and child so involved with each other's feeling as a good book.
You may read aloud from the standards, like "Wind in the Willows" or "Oliver Twist" (children empathize with Mole at least as much as Oliver), but be adventurous. The bookstores are crammed with tommorrow's classics from Katherine Paterson or simple good reads, like the new children's novel, "The Dogwalker" by Sophy Burnham (Frederick Warne, $7.95). A Washingtonian, Burnham makes Georgetown, 10-year-olds and even the P.L.O. and the Secretary of State come alive with a plot that fits in particularly well with the evening news.
If it's hard for you to find something to talk with your child about, think how hard it is for him to talk with you.