We've all heard that you should never ask a man what he's thinking. I tend to agree with this advice because many men will answer: a) beer, b) sex, or c) seeing how far away from the toilet they can stand and still make it. I, myself, abhor being asked what I'm thinking, because my answers generally arouse feelings in others which oscillate between "I am deeply worried about you," and "I can't believe you kiss your children with that mouth."
I ask my kids what they are thinking all the time. But this is a recent development; I never had to ask them questions when they were younger. They were open books, as the narrative of their minds played out at full volume without pause. My daughter used to describe scenery as we drove past it, and would demand my full attention and request repetition to ensure I was listening to her:
"Mommy! Look at the flowers! They are pretty! And yellow!"
"Mommy, say it. No 'mmmhmmm.'"
"There are flowers. Nice."
"And what?" (I'm thinking I have it covered at this point. We're three miles past them now.)
"That they're yellow. SAY IT!"
So you can understand how I've never really had to inquire as to what is going on in her mind. But she is a young teen now and keeps most things private and to herself. I understand that this is part of normal childhood development, but I don't have to like it.
So now I ask questions -- lots of them. A recent dinnertime conversation went something like this:
I ask my son first. He's only eight and usually has something interesting to say. "So, what's on your mind today?" I inquire.
There is no hesitation from him and he responds easily. "I was thinking that if I ever cut off my finger, I would want a robot finger replacement. I could lift anything with a robot finger."
This is why he's not allowed to cut his own food.
I turn to my daughter. She is not listening, and I repeat the question. She is 14, and busy perfecting the act of looking at once both pensive and haughty.
Finally she admits something. "I'm thinking about the bus."
"The bus?" This is good news to me. I'm all for free-range parenting, and the bus would be good for her. I've been after her for a long time to start riding the town bus.
"Yeah, you said you wanted to teach me to ride the public bus. That I need to be more independent."
I did say that. I spend my life in the van, and a full tank of gas currently costs me over $80 and a promise to the gas bar attendant I have no intention of keeping.
"Yes. I'll show you how to get a ticket and..."
"Don't I need money?" she asks.
"Yes; but just to pay for your tickets."
"Can't I just use money? I'd rather use money."
"Look, it's cheaper to buy tickets if you use the bus a lot, OK?"
"But I'm not going to use the bus a lot. I won't need tickets."
"I know. But in general it's cheaper."
"Well, in general I'd rather use money."
"I still want you to know how to ride a bus and transfer." I know the next question is going to be 'what is a transfer' so I keep talking. "A transfer is when you get off one bus and onto another so you can travel into a different route without paying extra."
"Oh. What's a rou.."
"Areas where the bus runs. The driver will stamp your ticket and then you can go from one bus to another for no extra charge."
"But I'm paying in cash! I have no ticket! HOW WILL I GET TO RIDE ON ANOTHER BUS?"
I'm starting to regret this conversation. "Don't worry about it," I say. "It's easy. The bus driver simply stamps your forehead and you can ride the bus until the ink fades."
So now I'm re-thinking this whole "independence" thing, because I can hardly take the preview. Either I give it up, or force her into the seedy underbelly of public transportation with no preparation. Maybe mortification will work. Perhaps I should start going bra-less when I drive her places, thereby forcing her to seek alternative transit options. I'm willing to do that for her.
It's called "Commando Parenting," people.
I am a freedom fighter.
* This post originally appeared on the highlyirritable blog.