Listen, don’t talk. Listen, don’t talk. Listen, don’t talk.
No matter how many times I tell myself to listen more and talk less so my kids will speak up, I forget.
Take my recent date night with my 13-year-old. It is a rare night the two of us get to spend alone, so I took the opportunity, turned off all my devices and made him turn off his, and took him to Scalino, his favorite restaurant.
I focused in, staring straight into his dark brown eyes and listening raptly to his excited tales of just how, exactly, he has come to be so enamored, near obsessed, with the New York Giants. It is Odell Beckham, Jr. in particular who has really won his heart and, so he tells me, the hearts of all football fans everywhere.
I smiled deeply as his dimples emerged in shy enthusiasm over the huge successes of this rookie player from Louisiana.
“He’s like the greatest wide receiver ever,” he said, eyes sparkling with excitement as he recounted Odell’s incredible one-hand grab in the game against the Cowboys.
I sipped my wine and my heart surged. Was it possible that we were talking about football and yet this was the greatest evening of my life?
Here in front of me was the sweetest, most enthusiastic, smiley-est boy in the world. And I was lucky enough to be his mother.
I didn’t have too much to add, so listening was easy. I ate my penne with broccoli rabe and sausage and asked a question here or there, but the football talk kept the conversation going well.
There were other subjects too. Something funny one of his teachers said, stuff about friends. And then about the movie “Selma.”
“Can I tell you what happens in the beginning?” he said.
He’s seen it twice somehow, when I haven’t even seen it once.
“Sure,” I shrugged. It is a true story, so I figured I knew the information already, and I did.
“These four girls were coming out of church and they got killed,” he says, his eyes filling with tears that threatened to spill over. “It’s so terrible.”
This is where I maybe should have just nodded and touched his arm, not run with the theme of man’s inhumanity to man, the many atrocities of history.
Seriously, the next thing I knew I was talking about the Holocaust, and Eli was “for some reason” jumping out of his skin, so much so that, just post crème brulee, he had to get up and leave.
He had mentioned his reading of “Maus,” the Art Spiegelman rendering of the Holocaust in graphic novel form, that he read many years ago.
“I didn’t realize before then that it was so bad,” he said.
The Holocaust was a constant conversation in my household growing up in a reform Jewish family in Tucson, and we read and watched things about it often at home and in Hebrew school.
“I guess I’ve tried to shield you a bit more,” I said. “But it’s pretty bad, what people do to each other.”
I talked a bit, told a harrowing tale of a person we know who survived by living in a hole in the earth as a child, alone, and boom. I lost him. Eli’s discomfort suddenly was palpable, and all I wanted to do was to erase time and return to talk of the NFL.
It is a challenge, I must say, to stay within the boundaries of a child’s comfort zone. There are minefields all over, and there are, of course, times when you have no choice but to step in them. But, and I must remember this yet again, sometimes it is best to shut your own mouth and just listen. When I do that, I hear what they think instead of telling them what they should think. And I learn about where they are in their thinking, which is crucial.
When I got home, Eli was playing with the dog and the three of us canoodled quietly for a while. We recovered from what had happened to separate us, and the best parts of the evening held sway. We did connect, and that’s the part, hopefully, that both of us will remember.
I’m glad things went a little south on our date. It happens, and I can learn from it.