The recently begun school year brought with it the smell of fresh pencil shavings, the squeak of shoes on newly waxed linoleum and a new round of stonewalling to the question, “What did you do at school today?”
For generations, the most common answer to this question has been “Nothing,” followed closely by “I don’t know” and its cousin, “I don’t remember.”
When my daughter started preschool, I was desperate to know what she did all morning, but I couldn’t get any information out of her. Some experts recommend giving kids space and time to decompress before launching into questions. I tried that, but she still wasn’t forthcoming. Others advised me to make questions more specific, yet still open-ended. The Internet abounds with lists of quirky alternatives to “How was your day?” But when I asked my daughter who made her laugh or what games she played outside, I was met with sighs of irritation and emphatic replies of, “Stop asking me those fings!”
When school began this year, I tried a new approach at the dinner table. “Do you want to hear about my day?” I asked my daughter.
And on that day and every day since, she has never said “no.” So I tell her about meetings and photocopying, the jammed printer and how I lost and found my keys. I tell her about the games on the playground, the lessons I taught and how many kids asked to go to the nurse. I start with taking attendance in the morning and I end at dismissal. I am a teacher — at her school — although her class is on a separate campus.
Then, like she’s taking her turn in a game of Go Fish, my daughter tells me about her day. I learn what book she listened to at the library, that she changed from her rain boots to her sneakers by herself, and the cause of her brief venture into timeout. She tells me who was classroom helper and who she sat next to at snack time. She sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for me, crawling her fingers up the invisible water spout above her head. She leans in close. “Did you make letters in sand today?” she whispers. “I did that!”
Although being a teacher may make my days relatable to a child attending school, I think my daughter is most interested in unveiling the mystery of what I do when I’m not with her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a software developer, a cashier, a blogger, a doctor, a bus driver or a stay-at-home parent, because it’s not about the minutiae of the work. It’s about sharing what makes us laugh and what bores us, the mistakes we make and what is hard for us, the interesting people we meet. When I model this for my daughter, she is more willing to share the same with me.
Work is usually the last thing I want to talk about when I get home. I often think that a rundown of my day would be a bore to anyone, including me. Maybe my daughter finds listing all her cutting and pasting and cleaning up blocks equally tedious. But I delight in hearing the details of her day, just as she delights in mine.
Tonight at the dinner table, as my daughter inexpertly wielded her knife and fork and I started talking about tomorrow’s plans, she interrupted.
“Mom? Aren’t you going to tell me about your day?”
Sara Ackerman is a writer and a teacher.
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