Monday, March 10, 2014

Small Talk

“Hey there, buddy! How’s your day going?”

Holy crap. Did I just hear that? From the mouth of a 28-month-old child? Much of what comes out of his mouth is programmed, repeating what he has heard in other settings. Where did he hear THAT one?

He also was using it quite appropriately, in a conversation between two of his dinosaurs. Maybe something from one of his new favorite shows, Dinosaur Train? Whatever. It’s cool. He’s learning the ins and outs of small talk, and practicing with his toys. 

Yesterday he made sure to let his cars know that he had to check out for a moment,
“I have to get my diaper changed. I’ll be right back. Okay?”

(In another voice) “Okay!”

“I’ll be right back. I’m going to my room.” He waddled off…

Small talk. What does it matter? Why do we need to fill the dead space in the room with “idle” chatter?

Well, it keeps us connected. It helps us to know what’s going on, and tunes us into subtle undertones and accompanying body language. Comments about the weather may tell us much about someone’s daily challenges. And, some people just don’t like silence.

It may also tell us whether or not someone finds interest in the day-to-day, ordinary things in life.

I have known many, often highly intelligent, people who had great difficulty with the nuances of everyday life. If you actually know the Krebs cycle, got an “A” in organic chemistry, or have read all of Marx, Kant and Nietzsche, then a cheery “How’s the weather?” probably seems banal to the point of ridicule. Yet, waiting for the extraordinary to land at one’s doorstep seems like a great way to lose much of one’s life.

“Cold enough for ya?” can certainly be maddening on the surface. Yet, what it means is that someone finds me worth a connection. There are days where I long for that, especially in such a long, cold, isolating winter.

I hope Jay will enjoy chit-chat. He already seems to have a knack for it. We’ll look for ways to find an exceptional life within the world of the ordinary. He has brought a new excitement to pizza-making. After he helped me to sprinkle cheese and vegetables on our pizza Wednesday night, he charged the door when Laura walked in. Hopping up and down like a kangaroo, he yelled “MOMMY! MOMMY! I made PIZZA! I made PIZZAI I SPRINKLED! I SPRINKLED!!!!!”

I’m glad he got the part about making pizza out there first. I can only imagine opening the door to be greeted by my 2-year-old child yelling that he “sprinkled”.

Pizza making is now on the list of “Big Deals.” It’s big for him, but now it has become a big deal for me as well. It’s hard to deny the infectious nature of a child, carefully studying, then adjusting my instructions to fit his own agenda, and bouncing around the house in excitement.

In this never-ending winter, the ability to re-invent the living room has been critical to our survival. Window crayons have turned our south-facing wall of light into an ever-changing mural. Jay’s growing ability to hold things with his chubby fingers makes painting an option. A few new reading books, play-doh, and crayons are great staple activities. We can’t always drive to a party palace for bouncy houses, but his crib mattress, pulled out onto the living room floor, fills the gap nicely (we have just enough couch cushions and bean bag chairs to pad the landing zone).

The calendar will have taken us well into April before the grass reappears, as the snow runs off or is absorbed into the ground. I expect a late and long mud season. Eventually, the simple things of spring will bring us new lessons- flowers, eggs in nests, leaves and buds, the greening of the grass.

The new hay shed needs a couple of coats of paint. THAT should be fun. I’ll be fencing in the garden this year (Laura is tired of sharing so much of the fruits of her hard work with the deer and rodentia). There will be sticks to pick up in the yard. Oh yeah. There will be balls to kick and throw, and we’ll probably move up to a big boy swing this year. So much to do!

It IS about the simple things, things that happen every day. We are surrounded by the extraordinary every day. On one of my very first Outward Bound courses, we were joined by China Galland, author of “Women in the Wilderness”. China’s epic 10-year journey was chronicled in “Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna”, a study of female faces of “god” from around the world. Although she was there to observe the women instructors with whom I worked, she was gracious and warm with me. We had numerous, meaningful conversations. I was grateful not to be marginalized by having a Y chromosome, and told her so. 

In “Women in the Wilderness”, China wrote that our main task is to:

“become leaders of our own lives, heroes of our own stories. We have only to find out what that means.”

For me, now, as a father it means finding something wondrous to share with my son every day.

We can wait and wait, forever in search of the exceptional, the epiphanous, the wondrous, the A-HA moment, growing old and tired and jaded, wondering what happened? How did life become so dull? Worse, we can become lofty and arrogant at those who seem so happy with the ordinary and simple. I hope that I will remember to reach out anyway, and let Jay see that sometimes the best thing to say could be,

“Warm enough for ya?”


  1. You certainly identify and understand the nuances of raising a child. Your love and concern is evident; you write so that all can see.

  2. Thank you very much for your kind words.