I once had a conversation with my daughter where her contribution consisted almost entirely of the phrase, “What’s that?” I don’t know whether I should have felt honored, because she thought I was so powerful that I could read her mind, or frightened, because she’d found new way to systematically drive me insane.
Here’s the column I wrote about that experience, pulled from the archives of pieces that have appeared over the years in various newspapers and online. If you’ve got children, you can probably relate.
Mind Reading Mommy
By Joanne Brokaw
Parenting is a tough job. Not only are you expected to birth another human being, you have to feed, clothe, teach, bathe, chauffeur, discipline and otherwise raise the child so that they become a productive member of society.
Oh, and let’s not forget the mind reading.
I remember once when my daughter was about three years old, we were driving on the expressway, wrapped in our little automotive cocoon, when from the back seat I heard her sweet little voice ask, “Mommy, what’s that?”
“What’s what?” I asked.
“That.” I looked in the rearview mirror to see her sitting in her car seat pointing out the front windshield.
“Is it inside or outside the car?”
“It’s that thing, right there.”
I looked ahead as I drove and ventured a guess. “The windshield? This glass that we’re looking through?” I reached forward to tap the window.
“No, what’s that?”
“The rearview mirror?”
I pointed to the mirror. “It’s the thing that lets me see what’s behind us.” I peeked back at her.
“No! What’s THAT?” She kicked her feet a little on the back of my seat.
Oops, my mistake. Try again. “Do you mean the trees that we’re passing?”
“WHAT?” I asked, my eyes furtively darting back and forth to scan the sides of the road as I drove.
“What is THAT thing. RIGHT THERE.” She stabbed the air with her little finger to emphasize the direction she wanted me to look. She was pointing at, well, everything out the front windshield.
“What color is it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What is it?”
“Is it in the car?”
“No! What IS it?” I peeked back to see her strapped into her seat, hugging her stuffed teddy and pointing straight ahead.
I looked for something unusual in front of us that might be prompting this interrogation, my knuckles turning white as I gripped the steering wheel just a little tighter. “Are you pointing at another car? That building coming up? The bridge? The sign?”
“No! What is THAT thing? Right THERE?”
“What, the birds? The clouds? The barn? The lamp post? The guardrail?”
“Mommy. What is THAT?”
I took a breath and ventured one last guess.
“Are you pointing at the air?”
She sighed very loudly. “Never mind. We passed it.”
I thought that once my daughter grew up I could put my mind reading skills to rest. Silly me.
When Cassie was 20, I dropped her off for a flight back to Florida, where she was living with friends. We said our teary goodbyes at 5:50 am and then I went home to crawl back in bed. At 7:50 am the phone rang.
“Mom. I’m in Washington and I don’t know where to go.”
I rubbed my eyes. “Well, I don’t know where you need to go. Ask someone who works at the airport.”
“There’s no one here,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m going to miss my flight.”
I pictured my daughter standing completely alone in one of the nation’s busiest airports. “Look for someone wearing a uniform,” I suggested.
“I don’t know if they work here or are just pilots going to their flights.”
“No, I mean go to the ticket counter and ask for help.”
“There’s no one at the ticket counter.” Then she added, as if it explained everything, “We landed at a Delta gate but I’m flying US Air.”
“Well, any of the ticket agents can tell you how to get to your next gate.”
“I don’t KNOW what my next gate is.”
“Then you need to look for that big bank of television screens and find your flight number on the monitor. That’ll tell you what gate to go to.”
“MOM! I don’t know where to go!”
“When does your flight board?”
“Well, I can’t help you from ROCHESTER. Go find someone who works at the air…”
She hung up on me. A few minutes later the phone rang again.
“Mom. OK, so I asked some guy and he looked at my ticket and told me to go to Gate 25.”
“OK, so your flight’s leaving from Gate 25.”
“No, a guy at gate 25 told me to wait here for the shuttle. Am I supposed to get on the shuttle?”
“I don’t know! Ask someone who works at the AIRPORT.”
“Mom! I’m going to miss my flight! What should I do?”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
“Nice, Mom. You don’t need to yell.”
“Well I can’t help you from …”
She cut me off by hanging up again. I banged the receiver on the table. Then I leaned back on the pillows, took a few deep breaths, and redialed. Busy. I tried again.
“Cassie, when we flew through Reagan last time, I seem to remember having to take a shuttle between terminals …”
“Mom. I figured it out.”
I sighed. “Good, did you find someone to tell you what to do?”
“No, I called Matt and Sarah.” She’s stuck in Washington so she calls her friends … in Florida?
“Uh, do you know what gate you’re supposed to be at?”
“No, I haven’t figured that out yet.”
“When does your plane leave?”
“I don’t know. Pretty soon. I’m fine.”
“Do you know what to do when you get off the shuttle?”
“MOM! Don’t worry about it, OK? Geez.”
“Well, are you going to make your plane or not?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” She hung up again.
I waited, but didn’t hear back. Did she make the flight? Was she stranded in Washington? Did she have enough money? Who was picking her up at the airport? Was no news good news?
The next time I heard from her was at noon, when she called to tell me that she was home in Tampa and having lunch with her friends. Of course, considering my mind reading skills I should have known that already.
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