conversation starters

Once and Future Conversations

Picture a Conversation ElephantsOur daughter-in-law jokes that our newborn granddaughter is part baby elephant. At four weeks, Olivia has a full repertoire of snorts and snuffles, back of the throat raspings and full-throated cries that trumpet, “Somebody better feed me and change me, NOW!”  Olivia and her devoted mom are embarking upon a mother-daughter conversation that will last their entire lives.

As for me, one of her devoted grandmothers, I look forward our own conversations.  I adored that brief window of my kids’ verbal development as they acquired language but not the filters that kept their words, and thus their thoughts, hidden. I savored their funny phrasings and crystalline insights, all the more stunning for coming from such wee beings.

Look, Mommee! Olivia’s father said to me some three decades ago.  Bubbles!  IMG_1769He was pointing to a set of iridescent crystal goblets we’d received as a wedding gift. What poetry to see the world through my son’s eyes. There was the time he pulled me to the window to point out the falling snow.  “Look, Mommee.  Doesn’t the snow make you think of God?” “Oh yes, little one. Yes, indeed.”  I thought then.

 

IMG_1771What kinds of conversations will Olivia and I share?  Will we read about Noah’s ark  and imagine together how God might have dreamt up the giraffe and the peacock? Whence came the idea for kangaroos and starfish? Or why sunflowers have dozens of petals and tulips so few? What will be her talk on the changing leaves as fall overtakes summer? Or what it feels like to  jump in a pile of leaves or build her first snowman? As time passes, our conversations may well turn to deeper issues — squabbles with friends,  frustration with her parents’ sage rules and boundaries, broken hearts and promises.

But until then, I savor Olivia’s cries and whimpers, the outsized snuffles coming from one so new.  The conversations will be here before I know it.

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Eat Your Own Dog Food

How would you answer these questions?

How would you answer these questions?

You gotta eat your own dog food, Mom,” my son said to me one day.  We were in the midst of creating the set of Picture a Conversation cards and were making up questions, matching them with photos, sharing them with families, women’s groups and therapists to use and test.  I had participated with some of the women-only focus groups but hadn’t actually used them with my friends or family.  Ergo my son’s dog food comment.

He was right, as he usually is with his mom’s endeavors.  Elliot is a great sounding board and idea bouncer off-er. He designed my first website and over the years has amazed me as he stays a few steps ahead of emerging technologies.  He told me about Twitter when the phenom was still wet behind the feathers; and years before it came to pass, he realized that privacy would be the world wide web’s next great commodity.  So when Elliot talks, I listen.

Martin and I began taking the cards with us on our walks, and as we meandered the trails in Sedona, our conversations began to take on similar movement. We’d start with a question only to have it branch into conversations and sub-conversations like tributaries splitting off from a river. Some questions let us to reminisce about loved ones, now gone, whose wisdom helped shape our choices and thus our lives.

New BudOne day our daughter surprised us and brought the set to a restaurant.  Like a Vegas dealer, she deftly dealt us each a couple of cards.  “I know some of these answers,” she said, “but I want to hear what you’ll say, anyway.”  Over a leisurely meal we looked back on our early days of parenting. To the question What advice would you give new parents? Martin answered that babies aren’t as breakable as he had feared. We talked about the traits of ours our daughter shares, and the qualities she’s developed by following her own path.  By the time dessert arrived, we three had shared experiences past, present, and future on a new and valuable level.

When I was coming up with Picture a Conversation’s 75 questions, I knew they were good. I strove for depth and breadth, wanting to give our future users opportunities for meaningful self-reflection and sharing. I wanted there to be a lot to mull over each time someone chose a card. My son was right — you gotta eat your own dog food. But not just to discern what is gold and what is lead. Eating your own dog food can be a reward in and of itself. It’s the process by which you reckon with your creation and deem it worthy.

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