It was a rather lazy, rainy weekend and we decided to spruce it up by watching a movie. I went to the nearest Redbox and picked up the movie “Wonder” as many parents raved about it. This was a movie that I had been meaning to watch with my daughters.
A simple script with a powerful message and intrinsically woven characters. We navigated through our own emotions as August Pullman(Auggie) gets bullied because of his facial deformities. After his final act of triumph on stage, we unanimously roared with laughter. My daughter’s faces glowed with positive approval and deep delight.
That movie made me look back at my own role as a parent.
Who will my children model after? Would they model after Jack (who befriends Auggie) or Julian (who insults Auggie time and time again) or be a silent bystander.
How much do I know my own kids? Will they choose to tell me if somebody made fun of them or taunted them in any way?
So I made a conscious decision- ask them open ended questions every night. Questions that elicit answers better than OK, good or bad.
The conversations started casually over dinner with my 9 year old. “You know, I sat at my cubicle today and had lunch. Whom did you sit with during lunch?” She shared two names. I followed-up, “Would you like to sit by them everyday?”
To my absolute delight, it opened up a conversation lasting more than 20 minutes. Her friends who were her friends a few months back had changed like the swirl of a tidal wave.
That night, I went to bed with two ahas — 1) the life of a 9 year old is no less complicated than the vagaries of office life. 2) recess and lunch- in their unstructured glory are windows in their social world.
I was reminiscing my own days as a 9 year old and how the world has changed since — life was less complicated, I ate lunch at my desk assigned on first day of school.
I may have broached the most important setting without even overthinking it.
With my 5 year old, I approached it differently.
With my hands gesturing that I am coming in for a tickle, I made eye contact with my her and said, “somebody is smiling today. Looks like you had an awesome day. You have to tell me all about it.”
That was all my 5 year old needed. She was happy to sit on my lap and chat endlessly on how wonderfully she behaved and how proud her teacher was of her.
I asked her, “When did you not feel so great today?” Quickly came her reply about a kid who refused to share. That seems a constant fixture across generations.
The next night, I made a conscious effort to talk about the best parts of my job. And then asked them gingerly, “if you could have one job in your class, which one would you opt for and which one you detest?”
My five year old was quick to point out that the electric pencil sharpener job was the coolest one. I couldn’t help but chuckle. And being a door holder tired her. Her sister chipped in, nodding in agreement. And added that the light manager was not that stimulating too. In the days were bills, deadlines and issues creep in — the sweet, honest, innocent reply of my kids warmed my heart.
In all this, I had no master plan. I engaged in pure, unscripted, eye to eye talk. I shared my life with them. In return, They opened up to share theirs.
The impetus was the movie Wonder. The seeds were sown last Thanksgiving.
Driving back home after a weekend at my college friend home, I asked my daughters, “What was the best part the trip?” My younger daughter was in the backseat on her booster seat, strapped in place with the seat belt. She said in her sing song voice, “I liked that you were not with your laptop daddy during the whole trip.”
She bolted me out of the blue with an act that did not happen! All I felt was an “Ouch.”
I wanted to be the dad who was around. I took pride in finding ways to be physically present. That day, I truly understood the feeling of what truly matters — being fully present.
In all those conversations with my children that I shared since— I was disconnected from the digital world. So were they. And in those eye to eye, treasured moments — deep, whimsical memories were born.
An electric pencil sharpener will always lighten up my mood. Now, you are party to my memory.
Thank you for the read,