One thing that works for me as a parent is creating [hopefully] memorable experiences. I’m not great in the day-to-day. But I feel like I’m pretty decent when I can do something special with my kids.
We used yesterday’s Wooden Legacy Finals in Anaheim as an excuse to hang out together for twelve hours. And as much as I’d like to say that I had some sort of a grand plan to make the most out of our day together, I really didn’t. I just knew we were going to spend time together and over the course of that I hoped we’d enjoy some bonding time and get past our normal small talk.
Small talk is an enemy to real relationships.
I mean, I don’t mind making small talk with a person I don’t really know. But I don’t like to talk around stuff with people that I love simply for the sake of not talking about things that actually matter.
All that to say… having a serious conversation with my middle school daughter isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be. I’d like to think we could sit down and talk about stuff that’s important to her. But it’s not that easy. Maybe some people’s kids open up to them easily, but we McLane’s keep our emotions to ourselves. We specialize in showing you what we want to show while deferring to an endless stream of small talk and nothingness. I’ll never forget Kristen’s first major holiday with my family, all my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandma. When we drove away she was astonished that people had talked all day about absolutely nothing important.
Nibbling and Getting a Bite
Our drive to Anaheim and pre-game lunch was nice. We talked about Christmas and she mocked me for singing along to Katy Perry songs. At lunch we talked about… pizza and nothingness. When we got to the game we talked about our seats and basketball. I peaked her interest a little bit by talking about product placement and how event contracts force you to do silly things like have 4 armed guards and 25 ushers for about 100 people at the 2nd game of the day.
And that’s pretty much how the day went.
After Xavier Thames lead San Diego State to the championship, we high five’d, and headed for the car. A fun day. A pit stop at Starbucks for the 2 hour drive home. And I’m left fishing to get past small talk to something important.
About an hour into our drive. Nibble, nibble, nothing. Meh. Some days are like that I suppose.
I was convinced that this would be how the day would end. We’d have a great day together, driving several hours listening to music and talking about Christmas, share the joy of watching our team win the big game, and enjoying the togetherness of simple joys like good pizza and candy between games.
But it was becoming clear we weren’t going to have a good talk about anything that really mattered to either of us. While bonding time is amazing those moments where you click are important, too. Driving at 75 miles per hour down I-5 I’d resigned myself that we’d have this nice day but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.
That’s when I got a bite.
We were talking about The Hunger Games, which lead to the cliffhanger in Catching Fire, and then a long discussion about antagonists, protagonists, and story arch. It was fun to open her eyes to the idea that a story arch is cultural, so while American stories typically resolve with a happy ending that’s not always the case in literature from other cultures. Some end in triumph, some end in despair, others resolve by not resolving at all and leaving the reader to wonder what happened to the protagonist. And it was fun to wonder out loud about what we struggle against in our own story and what makes our life interesting.
My heart was full and my body tired as we pulled up to the house. 11 o’clock, twelve hours with my daughter, we gathered our stuff and went into a silent house. She disappeared into her room to get ready for bed as I put the keys on my desk and I let out a long, deep, breathe.
We all struggle. It’s cliche` to say that parenting isn’t easy, one reason it’s so hard is that it’s a moving target. Just when you figure out the elementary school thing, middle school comes along. And with the passage of time things that worked yesterday just don’t work today.
And this day I struggled against my own ability to create small talk while hoping for a more meaningful relationship with my daughter.
Sports. Weather. School. Christmas. Blah. Demons.