Some conversations need a decoder.
“I hate you,” in middle school often means, “Why don’t you pay more attention to me? I think you’re pretty awesome and I don’t know how to tell you that directly.”
Or, how about:
“What you did isn’t so great. I could have done that.”
Translation: “Damn, I wish I had thought of that. Where’d you get that idea?”
“Johnny is so much worse at this than I am.”
Translation: “Johnny may or may not be much worse than I am, but I can’t possibly be the worst one at wrapping holiday presents. Please, tell me that I’m not at the bottom of the barrel in this activity.”
Parents have their own way of communicating with each other and/or speaking about their children. Most of the things we say, either to our spouses, to their teachers or to other parents, are direct and straightforward. I’ve had some recent conversations in sporting matters where the subtext is so obvious that I thought I’d share my own decoder.
Me: “So, how do you think the team looks this year?”
Superdad: “Well, my son has spent much of the offseason preparing for this.”
Translation: “I poured thousands of dollars into training. He better do well and you all better notice it quickly, if you want to protect my son and the trainers from my wrath.”
Then there was a recent discussion about various volleyball skill sets among our daughters. I was speaking with the mother of a girl who is so much taller than my daughter that she’d have to bend down to eat peanuts off the top of my daughter’s head. This other girl plays the frontline almost exclusively.
Me: “So your daughter Clara looked great in the front today.”
Superdad: “Yeah, but she’s the best one on the team in the back line. She just never gets there, but she’s scary good back there, too.”
Translation: “I probably wasn’t that good at sports when I was younger and I want my daughter to define awesome on this team. In fact, this team would probably be better if we either cloned my daughter and had her play every position or if we took a few of your daughters off the floor for some of the game, until my daughter was able to give us a big enough lead.”
Bragging about our kids is inevitable, and probably helpful as a way to assure ourselves that there is a payoff for all the work of getting them to and from practices, rehearsals and other activities.
There are those parents who feign disappointment in their children.
Faker: “Oh, man, did you see that she only got two outs when she could have had a triple play? Now, that would have been something special.”
Translation: “She made the most incredible catch anyone has made this year and she would have had a triple play if your daughter hadn’t been studying the butterfly over in the bushes. Next time, maybe the team will be ready for that kind of play and your child can play a supporting role in my child’s greatness.”
And then there are the parents who work to limit any praise for their children, warding off the evil eye.
Me: “Wow, your son made a sensational running catch in the end zone. Congratulations.”
Superstitious parent: “Yeah, I guess it was OK, but the throw from the quarterback and the blocking by the other boys was even more impressive.”
Translation: “He’s OK, but don’t call too much attention to him.”
And then there are the put-it-in-perspective parents:
Me: “That was a tough game, no?”
PP: “I suppose, but they get to go home to a comfortable house with supportive parents.”
Translation: “Win or lose, life is good.”