October 30, 2015
By Ekta R. Garg
Because of parent-teacher conferences yesterday and today, Nine has these two days off from school. Having one of the kids home from school can always pose a challenge. (I have to find time for my writing as if I’m pilfering Oreos from the pantry in the dead of the night, shoving them into my mouth as fast as I can. In other words, typing and plotting and creating so fast that I often forget words, create typos, and miss little things that later make me go, “Huh? Who was writing this?”)
When both girls have the day off, they usually keep one another entertained and I end up doing a lot of listening. If only one is home, the situation offers interesting opportunities for conversations. Sometimes the conversations happen spontaneously, and sometimes they really surprise me.
A few weeks ago, when Seven had her days off for parent-teacher conferences, I took her out for a day of errands and “bribed” her with lunch at Panera. Seven couldn’t help sharing with her sister with glee that she got the chance to go out to eat. I decided that day that I would offer Nine the same chance.
Yesterday, owing to the fact that I needed to make a grocery run and go to the bank, I asked Nine if she wanted to eat at Panda Express. After she and I had batted back and forth some ideas, she brightened at the thought of trying something she’d never tried before. I had an ulterior motive for taking her to Panda Express. It was in the parking lot of the grocery store, making it an easy drive for the next stop of the day.
We went to Panda Express and I led her through the line, letting her choose what she wanted to eat and letting her pick where we would sit. As we settled at the table I shared with her the first time I ever ate at Panda Express, which was during my days as a grad student in Chicago at Northwestern.
She ate quietly for a little while, not saying much, and it gave me the opportunity to think about how different Nine and Seven are in personality. If Seven doesn’t have food in her mouth or she’s not sleeping, she’s talking. Constantly. In the shower; on the toilet; during a car ride anywhere. When I go to say good night to her, she always has to get one more thing in before I finally make it clear that it’s bedtime.
Nine, on the other hand, doesn’t jump to offer opinions on every single thing. She’ll often listen, watch, and ponder. She does like to talk, don’t get me wrong, but she doesn’t necessarily share an audible stream of consciousness with the world.
After we spent the first five or so minutes eating, I asked Nine if I needed to know anything before going into my conference with her teacher this morning. She joked that she didn’t want homework anymore and then said she knew that was a little too much to ask.
Nine had the same teacher for second and third grades, and her teacher this year is someone different. So I asked her to compare her fourth grade teacher with her teacher for the previous two years. Somehow, even before I realized it, I asked her whether her teacher ever said or did anything odd or, quite frankly, inappropriate.
She shook her head no right away, and I asked whether anyone in school had ever misbehaved with any of the students. Another no.
I told her gently that adults who had bad intentions would often give kids the message that the kids had no right to speak up because they were children. If she ever saw or heard anything that made her uncomfortable, I said, she should feel free to speak up. No one—adult, kid, no one—had the right to touch a child in an inappropriate way or say something out of place.
She grinned. “It’s like that commercial where the woman is taking a shower and the other lady comes and gives her the body lotion and then is rubbing her shoulders and says, ‘Let me know when this gets weird.’”
I affirmed for her that that’s exactly what it was like. Believe me, I kind of skirted my way around this one. In the last few months I’ve become more aware that my older child is growing up and that I’m going to need to start having these kinds of conversations with her.
I read in an article once that talking to children about anything touchy—sex; drugs; molestation; alcohol abuse; insert your worst nightmare here—isn’t a one-time conversation. It’s actually something that happens over time, over a series of conversations, and that these conversations can and should stay open ended. Doing that helps both parents and children feel more comfortable and also sets up the psychological comfort zone that either party has the freedom to digest information and come back with more questions or thoughts.
It’s not an all-in, black or white kind of “talk.” It’s an exchange of ideas. In addition to being her mother, I need to arm her with information to empower her as she prepares to become a woman one day.
Now, if only someone could prepare me for that eventuality.