Garry never told me anything about school. Tommy told me a little bit. Kay would start her stories before her foot hit the pavement as she stepped off the school bus. Each kid was so different.
My firstborn, Garry, is now a man of few words. He was also a child of few words. Every day I asked him, “How was school today?” I was lucky if I got a grunt or a shrug. Most of the time he just ignored me since that question did not interest him. One of my friends’ son was excited about the drinking fountain right outside his classroom. Using that, I tried something new and asked Garry, “Did you use the drinking fountain today?” He didn’t even pause and he definitely didn’t look at me. He kept on doing what he was doing, silent the whole time.
The only things I learned about what happened at school were from what other parents shared with me. There were tons of stories about scuffles on the playground, which kids were no longer friends, and the occasional preschooler biting another kid. Garry didn’t find any of that drama interesting enough to share with me.
It wasn’t until he was in second grade that I found our way of communicating. On a random afternoon halfway through the school year, I picked Garry up from school as usual. But this time he flooded me with a report of his day.
“Ben threw up. In class. All over the floor.” He went on to describe the color, volume, and smell in painful detail. But, I was not going to stop him. My boy had opened a tiny window into his view of the world. I was going to hear every bit of it, even if it made me slightly nauseous. “It was right in the middle of reading class and the teacher freaked out and all the other kids went crazy and we got to play a really long time on the playground after that.”
Like a switch turning off, the next day it was over. I picked him up in the afternoon and eagerly asked, “How was school today?” No reply, no grunt, nothing. I was crushed. I don’t know what made me ask the next question, whether it was grim humor or just desperation. “Did anyone throw up today?” Garry, surprised at my question, actually turned to look at me. A nd then a Mona Lisa smile crept over his face and he started chuckling quietly.
I never got that spontaneous response again, although it did pave the way for us to talk a little more than before. At least I knew he was listening to me even if he didn’t answer. I didn’t think it was possible, but he became even more quiet as a teenager. At that point, I’d occasionally ask, “Did anyone throw up in school today?” I usually got a slight smile. And if I didn’t get any reaction out of him at all, I followed up with, “Grunt if you can hear me.”