There are moments as I mum when I realise that I am doing it all wrong. This is one of those moments.
I am in the car, driving my son and two female friends to after-school swimming. The ‘MOB mobile’, as we affectionately call the 7 seater ‘bus’ I use mainly to ferry small children around town, is full of bodies, bags and … silence.
“So,” I say cheerfully, glancing at my boy in the rear-view mirror, “what did you get up to at school today?”
His face doesn’t register, not even flicker.
“Hello there!” I sing. I have his attention. “What did you get up to at school?”
He gazes into the middle distance, studiously ignoring his inquisitive mother’s stare. “Stuff,” he grunts.
“‘Stuff?’” I repeat. “What kind of ‘stuff’?”
He yawns. “Just, like you know… ‘stuff’.”
“Hmmm,” I acknowledge reluctantly. “And you girls… what did you get up to?”
Half an hour later they both draw breath. I now know every single detail of every single hour, including who did what to whom, where and why. Blimey, I think, rubbing my throbbing temples, maybe having a slightly less forthcoming boy isn’t so bad after all. We arrive at the pool and tumble out.
Later that evening we are back from swimming. I am sitting at the supper table with all three boys.
“So,” I say to the swimmer’s brother, “what did you get up to at school today?”
He opens his mouth, realises it’s full of pasta, and rapidly closes it before I can say a word. Gesturing he’ll respond in a minute, he chews vigorously. Swimming son, however, sensing an opportunity to put in his two’pennyworth, fills the temporary void.
“We did maths today… it was really cool. And then we did PE and then ICT… ” The monologue continues for some minutes whilst his brother tries frantically to get a word in edgeways. ‘Swimmer’ however, is on a roll – he’s centre stage and he’s not getting off. His brother, disgruntled, eventually gives up and angrily stabs pieces of penne with his fork.
Still later that evening, the boys have had a book and are ready for bed. I kiss them goodnight, turn out the light. “Goodnight boys,” I say, “sleep well.” My foot is on the top step, poised to go downstairs.
“Muuumm,” says swimmer son.
“Muuumm, I need to talk to you about something.”
“Now?!” I retort. It’s been a long day and my evening cup of tea is calling.
“About something that happened at school today.”
He sounds so serious, so sensible. I sigh and go back and perch on his bed.
“Right,” I say, settling in, “what is it that you need to talk to me about now?”
We sit in the darkness and I listen as he speaks.
So, I realise now what I’ve been doing wrong. I have been picking far too obvious and easy moments to try to communicate with my sons. What I need to do if I want more than just ‘stuff’, is to either ensure there’s plenty of fraternal competition for airspace when I ask my openers, or embark on a conversation when it’s actually high time for bed.
Then I bet you my MOB mobile they’ll be more than happy to chat.