What did you learn at school today?

There’s an age-old dialogue between children and parents. It begins long before the children have a two-digit age, in those first years when they are out of a parent’s sight for a few hours. This conversation usually happens in the first hour after parent and child are reunited; they have come home from daycare or school. The actual responses that the children give may vary…but the tone and the essence of their response is fairly universal. It goes something like this:

Parent: What did you do at school today?

Child (age 3): There was a girl? Who cried? And her nose was all running? Our teacher? She told us the girl was sad because she just moved here and she didn’t know anybody? So we told her our names? And I?… wrote a happy face on her snack plate? With my green marker? But so then? She didn’t cry? And I was wondering? Do we have any sprinkle cookies left? My knee? It has…

Parent: What did you do at school today?

Child (age 8) — option A:  We read out loud. I am the best out loud reader. Everyone knows it. I can read pretty much anything. I helped Savannah read. At gym, we played kickball. I am the best player. Everyone knows it. I am very good at kicking. And I’m really, really fast. In math, I won the …

Child (age 8) — option B: I got yelled at because I couldn’t read one stupid word. And the teacher knew I couldn’t read it. And no one would help me. Then I got hit with the ball during gym. I hate gym. I’m not good at sports. I have a math test tomorrow. I’m going to flunk…

Parent: What did you do at school today?

Child (age 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14): Nothing. I’m starving.

Parent: What did you do at school today?

Child (age 15): Learned. I’m hungry.

Parent: What did you do at school today?

Child (age 17): Lots. No worries. What do we have to eat?

Parent (via text): How are your classes?

Child (age 20): Intense. Care packages welcome. With food in them.

Parent: (on the eve of college graduation): I’m thinking I’ll make chicken cordon bleu and potatoes and broccoli for after graduation. How does that sound?

Child: Good!

Today I am packing to go to my youngest son’s graduation from Ohio Wesleyan University where he has studied English Literature and become knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics  that I’ve had to Google to understand. I open the treasure chest and pull out the small but carefully chosen gifts I’ve purchased for this occasion while he has been away studying and working and sleeping at odd hours and never quite eating enough. Everything I read and look at makes me weepy and I fight the urge to sit too long on the side of the bed and reminisce.

Yesterday, I began reading a 4-part series on his BLOG, in which he explains that he is spending this week “unwinding,” that is, contemplating his journey of learning.  He ends Part 1 with this:

“I invite you to follow this journey as I consider the balance between finding and understanding, between grief and high delight.”

Is it any wonder our children’s answers to our questions about what they learned in school today are consistently terse and bereft of real information? How does one describe learning to find the balance between grief and high delight…while still living it? How does one fully explain the highs and lows of any given day while one’s development, body, mind, and soul are progressing at a breakneck pace? How does one both live, and tell about the living, when still so new to the experience of doing it?

It made me think that maybe we should change the standard parent-child reunion question to something that invites them to be renewed, rather than regurgitate experiences they are in the midst of living. It made me wonder if our genuine interest in their day, when posed in the form of a question–after they have been answering (or dodging) questions for hours, is a bit misguided.

It made me wish I could have a complete do-over and make my only mother and child reunion question this:

Would you like something to eat?


  1. Marie! You have done it again! You always know what to say at the right time! Brody graduates from Farmington High in a few weeks and he is one of those ‘hungry’ students/children…


  2. I love this! Delightful! I have a 2 year old who is home with me during the day, so I know what he learns. I appreciate the wisdom and will remember it in future years. 😀


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