I’m sure it’s just me. I know no one else asks these absurd questions. I’m confident every other mom out there uses good logic when communicating to their children, despite the chaos going on all around. But have you even noticed the dumb questions we ask our kids? Well, not you personally; that was already established. So let me rephrase, have you noticed the dumb questions your friends and those around you ask their kids?
What were you thinking?
Umm, he wasn’t, or else he wouldn’t have skateboarded, on his stomach, head first down the 60° incline oblivious to whether cars were driving in the opposite direction.
Why did you hit your sister?
Because she had my toy, duh.
Why do you have pretzels up your nose?
Because they fit perfectly. Wanna try? ::chomp::
Are you trying to get run over?
Yes, Mom. That is exactly what I’m hoping to do – no luck quite yet though.
It was this last question that flew out of my mouth today while exiting a grocery store that got me to thinking about all of the dumb things I say to my kids. Many lead to belly laughter from my crew, such as: “Would you please put this in the sink?” As we finish up a meal and as I hand a child the bottle of ketchup. Ketchup — sink. Not exactly the right match, but such goofiness seems to flow from me as I seem to have diminished capacity as I get older to navigate multiple conversations at the same time as my kids all seem to think I have a designated set of ears for each of them, regardless to who else may be talking at the same time.
But I digress. Today — we exited the store and began to cross the parking lot to our car. We stepped out into the parking lot and turned right to get to the aisle our car was in. My 7-year-old may a rather wide right turn, stepping halfway into the way of traffic just as a car was coming. The car was going slowly, there was really no risk, and he was being mildly absentminded, and yet I felt the need to sarcastically ask, “Are you trying to get run over, son?” He took the question seriously and replied quite plainly, “No.”
At that moment I realize the absurdity of that question.
I have asked various children that same question countless times; not once has any of them said, “Yes, Mom. I am indeed trying to get run over.” I mean really; what a ridiculous question. Was he being careless? Possibly. Absentminded, probably. Not paying attention as we as he should, absolutely. But in any of that, is his goal to have a vehicle hit him? No. And yet that is the phrase that shoots out of my mouth more than any other in such situations.
There was something about how he answered that struck at my heart. I thought about the times that I was asked that kind of question as a kid; with that question comes a subtle message that if I was smarter, I wouldn’t have done such and such. And each time I felt shamed. Not a good kind of shame for bad behavior and outright sin; a kind of shame I should feel for doing wrong. But a shame because the message I received was that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. It wasn’t addressed as a learning experience, but a put down with the message that on that issue I was hopeless.
With my smart aleck comment I was passive aggressively implying that my son lacked the mental capacity to make a better choice. It was a subtle cut down, plain and simple. It was a lazy way to respond — no response would have been better, and there was something about the tone of his voice as he answered, “No,” that brought me back to the memory of being on the receiving end of such sarcasm.
And sarcasm can be a tricky thing. It can be funny, but more often it is harmful words disguised as humor. The speaker sees the words as acceptable because they are only kidding after all, but throwing the words after all at the end of a put down doesn’t lessen the sting of that put down.
So while I am sure that I ‘ve said far more dumb things than I will ever remember, and I am sure my kids will remind at some point, reminiscing about fond childhood memories and the funny things mom used to say, I need to always been mindful that words are POWERFUL. And that once spoken, they cannot be retracted from the memory.
I will fail often. Today won’t be the last time I say something I regret. But in the meantime, “Are you trying to get run over” will hopefully become a phrase and a question that gets erased from my repertoire.
What are some questions, funny or otherwise, that you find yourself asking your kids?