Conversation: an interactive communication between two or more people. The informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.
I used to be so good at conversation. I could riff with anyone on any topic (despite the fact I often had no idea what I was talking about). Sports? Got it. Movies? No problem. Politics? Religion? Art? That Van Gogh guy was pretty cool. I loved the craft of sharing thoughts and ideas with others.
When my wife and I started dating, we spent countless hours in engaging conversation. We discussed our childhoods, including details about every friend we ever had and every place we had ever been. We talked about the kind of tattoo we would get if we weren’t afraid of needles. I learned my wife loved fried cheeseballs and hated snakes. She learned I love women who love fried cheeseballs and hate snakes. We shared our hopes for the future, our dreams and our fears. We exhausted every possible topic and learned everything we could about each other. When we started offering personal history nuggets like, “Did I ever tell you that my Great Uncle is the seventh tallest Norwegian ever to bowl a 900 series on a Palm Sunday?” It was indication we were running out of good conversation topics. So we created three new ones — in the form of our three children.
During the early years of raising kids, it seemed having a conversation at all was a bit of a luxury. On those rare occasions we managed a date night, we struggled to get back to the mode of conversation when we first met. We attempted to share the most monumental, worldly epiphany recently pondered to help spark the enlightening banter we used to share. Often the best we could come up with was, “Hey, no one threw up this week!” This was typically followed with, “Wait, you forgot about Monday. And Thursday morning.” The romantic verbal exchanges of the past were hard to come by. Instead, we complained that we hadn’t ordered a pizza other than plain cheese, seen a noncartoon movie or read a picture-less book in years.
As the kids got older, we shifted talk from our favorite brand of diapers to strategies for removing pink, glitter-infused slime from the carpet. Our typical kid-versations now revolve around the pick-up and drop-off schedule for the week of school, band, soccer, piano, track, church activities, birthday parties and sleepovers. Sometimes we talk about how there were exactly 28 chocolate-chip cookies in a container while I’m halfway through one of the cookies. Then we discuss how our son has exactly 28 kids in his class and he is supposed to bring treats to school tomorrow. Then we discuss how I should go to the store to buy 28 fresh cookies and maybe some ice cream to go with the 27 we already have.
Kid-free conversations have been difficult to find in the past several years, even beyond spousal interactions. It seems most of the adults I know don’t have their own names. If I encounter a familiar face, it’s usually identified in my brain as “Lilly from soccer’s dad.” Often, as I approach a mutual acquaintance to initiate a chat, I quickly realize we know nothing about each other besides the fact our daughters play soccer together.
Me: “So...great soccer game last week, eh?”
Lilly’s dad: “Yep.”
Awkwardly long pause
Me: “Kaitlyn’s mom sure yells at the refs a lot.”
Lilly’s dad: “Totally!”
Awkwardly long pause
Me: “Well, see ya!”
Fourteen years into this parenting adventure, I’m finally accepting at this stage of my life, most conversations will be dominated by my children. And that’s OK.
Lucky for me, the art of conversation is topic-agnostic. It’s not about an outcome but the process itself. A conversation is an organic, messy, beautifully wild excursion. It’s like riding a roller coaster with your eyes closed: You don’t know how long it will last. You can’t predict the twists and turns. Sometimes you get stuck at the top for a distressing amount of time, knowing eventually you’ll get back down. But as long as you don’t throw up, the experience can be credited as a positive. (I apologize for the second throw-up reference.)
A conversation is simply a mutual exchange of ideas. This is true whether collaborating on a solution to end world hunger or determining the best family cell phone plan. It may even be a deliberation over whether or not to order the cheeseballs as an appetizer. When we take time to share in a conversation, we learn from each other. Our view of the world is expanded and our lives are enriched — one word at a time.
And always order the cheese balls.