Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Kitchen Table Conversation

We recently spent Saturday playing hard with cousins who live on the east side of Indianapolis. Our two children, ages one and three, are still great nappers for the most part. When they both forfeited an afternoon nap, I knew the bedtime routine would need modification to meet my selfish, personal needs:

1)    Feeding four pens of cattle four different feed regiments
2)    Checking said cattle eyes, noses and stools
3)    Getting frozen clothes off the line
4)    Loading the dishwasher
5)    Unpacking the travel bag and washing any cloth casualties (we’re in the thick of potty training – day 334)
6)    Rest in general

I carried Cyrus into the house, and he remained asleep, warm and ready for bed. Cyrus, who has fallen down the farmhouse steps twice and keeps his cheeks packed full of windowsill insects, is so surprisingly pleasant and easy at this stage. 

I carried Caroline in the house from the cold car, and as we reached the patio she asked through the cold darkness, “What’s for supper?”

I looked at the clock on the microwave. It was only 5:45. It was dark. She was tired. I was tired. I decided to use daylight saving time to my advantage. So I did what any optimistic, exhausted mom would have: I lied. 

“Honey. It’s the middle of the night. You slept through dinner. It is time for bed.”

“But I don’t remember dinner,” she responded, slumped over my shoulder. “And I’m hungry.” I knew then: If the kid talks about hunger in her sleep, it’s probably real. 

I sat her down at the dining room table and put a slice of leftover homemade pizza on her favorite plate and warmed it in the mircrowave. By the time I delivered it to her, she was wide-eyed, and far too curious.

This is a sampling of the questions Caroline asked over half-warm-day-old-pizza:

1)    Why can’t Cyrus have my pizza?
2)    Have you ever choked? 
3)    Are pepperoni and macaroni sisters?
4)    Does Dolla Genna (Dollar General) have horses?
5)    Can I have Amish horse?
6)    Why so many trucks go by in the middle of the night? (it was maybe 6:00 PM at this point) Where they going?
7)    Why does (cousin) have shineys on her teeth?
8)    Can I have them? 
9)    Am I pretty?
10)  Is Cyrus pretty?
11)  Whys he cry so much?
12)  Why didn’t you brush your hair today?
13)  Why don’t birds have teeth?

I sat there and watched her get marinara sauce in her hair, eating pizza and talking to me at the kitchen table like she was twelve. My mind flashed to a decade ahead when I will likely beg for my daughter to talk to me “in the middle of the night”. 

That’s why I didn’t shut her down or encourage her to hurry up and eat. I simply sat and listened. I studied her. I answered her curious questions to the best of my ability. 

That kitchen table conversation reminded me of the many precious conversations I had with my grandmother over the years. For some reason, I found it easier to sit at her kitchen table and talk to her about frustrating careers, disappointing relationships or life in general than anywhere else in the world. She was no counselor – things to her were very black and white – but she always got the full story out of me. Something about that picture window overlooking the farm and her listening ears kept me talking over the years. We consistently got to the heart of the matter and I always left there with clarity and knowing I had been heard.

So, I continued to listen to our three-year-old and answer questions. She thought she was experiencing a special privilege staying “up all night” having pizza with just mommy, but she had no idea how precious that leftover dinner conversation was to me.

That night, my daughter reiterated a lesson my grandmother taught me during my formative years: It is remarkable the things people will tell you if you simply sit back, shut up, and listen. Perhaps the toughest part of this act is simply shutting up. 

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