On a day-to-day basis it makes me feel very secure to know that my teenage kids are emotionally healthy and coping comfortably well with school and life and social interactions at such an impressionable time in their lives.
I know this to be true because they tell me.
How was school today?
How was your math test?
How was the party at your friend’s house?
Wait. Where are you going?
Good is about all I ever get. And most of the time, as teenage information goes, Good is good. If I feel a desperate need to know more I ask the dreaded follow on question: Oh yeah? What was good about it?
This lack of real information doesn’t bother me all that much. After all, I am the same way. When someone asks me how things are going, Good it is the first word out of my mouth. It is a generally satisfying answer which prevents me from actually evaluating my emotional state at any particular moment or waxing on about stuff that might be of little interest to someone else.
Besides, I never really know whether the person asking is generally interested in my state of being or just asking to be pleasantly polite.
And in my case, I often have difficulty summoning up the self-awareness and energy needed to come up with a truly thoughtful response.
I am flat on the ground. I have had a sudden and unexpected heart attack. A courageous bystander has just performed CPR and brought a pulse back to my lifeless body. A face peers down at me against the bright blue sky of a warm spring day full of hope and promise. “Sir, sir,” the face calls desperately as I emerge into consciousness and satisfying breaths return to my lungs, “How are you doing?”
I think about it a minute.
Good, I mumble.
Well! the courageous bystander interrupts. “You are doing Well”. It turns out my savior is an English teacher.
Selfishly, the same holds true when I ask how casual acquaintances are doing. It is genuine to express interest in their lives, but it is quite another thing to wade through long, unexpected responses or demand that they self-reflect when they aren’t really inclined to do so.
Well I had to finish my taxes today and I have a root canal scheduled for this afternoon and my inlaws are visiting for a week . . .
Still, when I ask somebody how they are I am generally gratified to hear a personal response. Good is good, but honest expression is better. And I do like to hear what makes Good good and understand whether things are bad Good or great Good or just good Good and why.
I guess I just don’t want excessive drama.
To me, expressing Good is kind of like a positive but really bland version of the F-bomb. It can be used in all sorts of contexts to describe someone’s state of being. And the word Good covers a huge amount of territory between great and terrible. But even the F-bomb doesn’t enhance Good’s bland emotional content all that much.
I never hear anyone say that things are Frigging Good.
I knew a guy who when asked how he was doing replied, “I couldn’t be better if I wrote the rules”. He still didn’t convey much or what rules he wanted to write for himself, but at least it was an interesting spin on Good. Other people I know like to say “I’m living the dream”. They usually say it with enough positive spin that it is clear they are not having nightmares. Still others are more blasé. “Same ole same ole”, they respond.
But no matter what the response, I have a general understanding that their state of being is somewhat positive. Or at least as lukewarm as the day before.
So when it comes down to it, when I really want to know how my kids are doing in a deep way, I sit down with them, make eye contact, and just ask.
Taking their phones away helps too.
If they say Good with sparkling eyes, then I ask them to share their happiness. If they say Good and look away, then I ask them to share their worries.
Sometimes this technique actually works.
However it is a two way street. One day my older son, home on break from college, put his hand on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eyes. “How are things going, Dad?” he asked sincerely.
I honestly wasn’t sure how to answer him. So I simply told him how I felt at that particular instant.
Great! I said smiling. You are home!