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 didn’t interest him. My friend’s son was excited about the drinking fountain right outside his classroom. One day I tried something new and asked, “Did you use the drinking fountain today?” He didn’t even pause, didn’t look at me. He kept on doing what he was doing, still silent.
The only things I learned about what happened at school for 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 typical kid 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 and he flooded me with a report of his day.
“Ben threw up. In class. All over the floor.” He described the color, volume, and smell in painful detail. But, I wasn’t 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, it was over. I picked him up the next day and eagerly asked, “How was school today?” No reply, no grunt, nothing. I felt crushed. I don’t know what made me ask this question, whether it was grim humor or desperation. “Did anyone throw up today?” Garry, surprised at my question, actually turned to look at me. A Mona Lisa smile crept over his face and he started chuckling quietly.
I never got that spontaneous response again, although it paved the way for us to talk a little more than before. At least I knew he was listening even if he didn’t answer. It was hard to believe, 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, I followed up with, “Grunt if you can hear me.”