Friday, October 25, 2013

Weekday Dinner Conversations

     Dinner at our house usually begins with grace with whoever's turn it is doing the honors.  The kids each have their own set prayers that they recite by rote—even though they can say anything they like, as Deanne and I do.
     Then, as we partake, after thanking Deanne for the wonderful meal and complimenting her on the food's deliciousness and awaiting her thank you acknowledgment, I ask each child in turn from oldest to youngest, about his or her day at school.
     I used to ask, “How was your day?” but always got the same noncommittal, “Fine,” answer.  So then I started asking, “What did you study today?” to which they'd respond with a list of subjects—not the type of information I was really seeking.  Follow-up questions, such as, “What did you study in Math?”  “What did you do in P.E.?” followed.  I might then quiz them what is two squared  What did Columbus discover?  Did you get to throw the ball?
     More recently, I've had some luck with, “Anything interesting happen?” but all-too-often get only a mumbled, “No,” response.
     The best question—at least for the older ones—now seems to be, “What did you learn in school today?”  They usually come up with thought-provoking responses that lead to open-ended discussions that involve everyone—one of the best types of dinner conversations.
     But the process does have its risks.  My oldest son recently summarized his science project:  Describe the solar system in cartoons.  I asked, “What's your story line?”  He said there really isn't one.  I asked, then why did you print out a satellite?  (I had asked him earlier that day what he was printing and he showed it to me.)  He said that it discovered rings around Uranus.  I asked what's the satellite's name?  He said I can't remember.  I asked when was it launched?  A long pause followed.  “I think,” he said, “in the late nineteen hundreds.”
     My mind swirled through the calculations.  “Technically accurate, though oddly expressed,” I thought and felt very old.  But I laughed and said, “That's correct.  But you don't have to say it like that.  You can say the nineteen seventies or whatever.  The way you say it makes it sound sooo ancient.  It wasn't that long ago.”  I told Deanne, “Jeez, we're from the nineteen hundreds...”
     She, still young, laughed it off and said she guesses that's how kids born in the two thousands view us, just as she viewed Laura Engels and those born in the eighteen hundreds.
     The kids had a fun time seeing our exaggerated chagrin and unexpected hilarity at our own expenses.  Jaren laughed the loudest with theatrical hand gestures, thrown back head, and wide open mouth, though he's far too young to catch the humor behind it all.  It's fun enough for him to just laugh along loud.  Which made Deanne and I laugh even more (until it started to get a little annoying.)

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