Recently, my daughter Amelia, five, watched as a hot air balloon was filled up and began to take flight, saw a volcano erupt in the school playground and was thoroughly impressed at how closely a police dog called Dutch followed his handler’s commands.
Admittedly, things have moved on a bit since I was at primary school some 35 (ahem) years ago, but I would have thought these events would have been worth a passing mention (although to be fair, I may have put the first two down to an over-active imagination).
Instead, I learned about them through ParentMail (the UK school-to-parent email system) or her quarterly Pupil Profile Report, complete with pictures of her waving happily as she sat in the (tethered) basket of said hot air balloon. She loved it, apparently, but saw absolutely no need to share this nugget of information with either her dad or me.
A quick chat with the other parents at the school gates revealed they were equally unenlightened and I’m not ashamed to admit I was pathetically grateful not to be the only mum living in less-than-blissful ignorance.
That said, I remember how irritating it was to be asked, ‘so how was school today?’ by my own well-meaning mum when I was tired, hungry and just wanted to get home to watch ‘ThunderCats’, so I’m mindful to limit my own interrogations.
I use open-ended questions, as per all the parenting experts, that, in theory at least, should flush out one teensy bit of insight into what’s happened to my offspring between the hours of 9am and 3pm (‘what was the funniest thing that happened at school today?’ is a current favourite. By GOD, child, give me something).
But open questions are no match for an in increasingly weary, ‘don’t know’ or can’t remember’ and, rather untigerishly, I often leave it at that (while plotting how to catch her unawares later, of course).
Accordingly, here are five things that I find work on a regular-ish basis – enough to help me feel I’m not completely in the dark about the whole shebang, anyway.
Call their bluff. Pretend to already know some of what happened today so they don’t feel it’s such a Herculean effort having to fill you in from scratch (as if, but you get my drift). I take my cue from the learning topic that term, or even what was on the lunch menu for the day if I’m really scraping the barrel (who sat next to who often gets a conversation going).
Use their buddies. Amelia’s school operates a buddy system, whereby children from an older year group befriend the younger ones, and Amelia is starry-eyed about her own very lovely chum. Asking her about Ella’s day seems to get a better response than asking directly about her own, and once she’s chatting I sneak in a few more direct questions. Gotcha!
Use their teddy / favourite toy. A variation on the above – Ted (aka moi) tells Amelia what he’s done today and then asks her the same question. A good technique as long as you don’t mind people looking at you like you’ve lost your marbles (and if you have, they’re probably under the TV).
Ask them to draw a picture of something that happened that day. It paints a thousand words, does it not? When this works, it’s a double-whammy of parenting kudos – they’re ‘being creative’ and you get a real-life representation of What They Did Today. High-five to you, mama.
Delegate / defer. I’ve noticed, to my immense irritation, that Amelia will often tell her dad things she hasn’t told me, and (suspiciously) the floodgates most often open as he’s taking her up to bed at night. Far be it from me to suggest that she’s angling to bust her bedtime, but they chat away quite companionably, and the grown-up part of me is glad she’s telling at least one of us something. Go Daddy.