Avoiding “Nothing”

It’s like my 7- and 9-year-old kids were already teenagers. I’d leave work a little early to face my 90-minute commute, the occupations of my day so I can raise my family in the first place, so my excitement had plenty of time to build until I could finally see them ask, “What did you do today?”

Quite literally, I’d get “Nothing.”

I thought that sort of ennui wasn’t supposed to hit for years!

Instead of getting exasperated by it, I realized it just needed a different context. Because what didn’t they do today? They got up, they lived life, they made friends, they ate, they struggled, they achieved. It’s too basic, too overwhelming a question. If there were something worth reporting, chances are they’d tell me before I could even ask.

Still, the question was an important one to me — I want to know about their lives, even the day-to-day minutiae, because that’s where life is truly lived. Maybe I could rephrase it, getting them to share the highlight of their day, something they enjoyed, because who wouldn’t want to relive that? And it hit me:

“What made you laugh the most today?”

I first tried it out on Lauren as I was tucking her in. Her eyes lit up, and she bubbled, “Leah was so funny at lunch today!” She launched into the story before I could say a word. And we talked about what a good friend Leah is, and how the lunch ladies don’t always let you sit next to your friends, and how kids who bring their lunch are seated differently than those who buy, and….

Lauren went to sleep a little later than normal that night.

The next evening, I tried it out on Jacob. I was awarded a story about playtime at recess, where this one kid said such a funny thing, and that led to a conversation about which kids he plays with, and how the one kid dropped out of the group, and how last year’s best friend now plays with someone else, but these other two kids are good friends this year…

I now ask my favorite question a lot more frequently. Not every day, because I don’t want it to become a chore. But often enough that they can probably see it coming — and maybe they’ll be more conscious for those moments, and keep an eye out for those situations where they find a belly laugh.

At least, that’s the effect it’s having on me. I expect someday soon, they may ask me the same thing. And I have to tell you, keeping those joyful memories fresh so I can relive them later is a pretty cheerful use of brain space.

1 comment on “Avoiding “Nothing”

  1. Mike

    Kurt. Seriously. I read this 3 times. I know I’m new to it, but I’m already taking notes how to do things right by following your lead. So thanks for paving the way and giving me a field guide for future parenting crossroads.


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