“So what are your kids up to these days?” I get asked by polite friends and family looking to make conversation.
I’d like to make polite conversation right back at them. But, I never know how to answer the above question.
I could say that my oldest son just got accepted into the most competitive public high-school in New York City, that my middle son was invited to join the pre-professional program at his ballet school, and that my 6-year-old daughter is learning to program basic games and animations on her computer.
But, that would sound like boasting. And boasting is obnoxious.
Plus, there’s the fact that my grandmother always taught me to watch out for The Evil Eye. When you admit (even to yourself) that any kinds of good things have happened to you, The Evil Eye (I picture Saruman from “The Lord of the Rings”) manages to hear it wherever (He? She? It?) hangs out, and promptly swoops in to make every single one of them disappear all the while cackling “Ha, ha, ha! Your puny, spitting ‘pu, pu, pus‘ wield no power here!”
In addition, my mother contributed the well-known fact that if you tell other people your good fortune, they will become insanely jealous and promptly wish for a variety of bad stuff to befall you in retribution. Which will, of course, happen without fail, since that’s how the universe works.
Under those circumstances, I could go in the other direction and, instead, answer the query about my children with, “Well, my oldest is incapable of thinking about anyone but himself these days to the point where he lets doors slam in people’s faces, my middle son is trying to kill me with his horrible behavior in school, and my daughter lies just for the hell of it–what’s worse, she does it badly.”
That certainly shouldn’t attract any jealousy–or any Evil Eyes.
But, it would also be complaining. And I really, really hate complaining. I won’t stand for it from my children, I won’t stand for it from my husband, and I most definitely won’t stand for it from myself.
Not to mention, complaining makes me sound ungrateful for what I have. And I am most certainly not ungrateful. Okay, so my oldest is going through a self-centered phase. But, he also spent all of last summer prepping for high-school admissions on his own. And he’s ridiculously responsible, babysitting his younger siblings when my husband and I go out. And yes, the last year of school was a nightmare with my middle son. But, he has other interests which he pursues passionately and enthusiastically (and without necessitating regular phone calls from the teacher about his attitude). As for my daughter, while she’s currently in the middle of a complicated relationship with the truth, she’s also a good-natured kid who’s usually the first to reach out when someone is upset with words of comfort and a hug (and a band-aid; no matter what the problem is, getting a band-aid is always a part of the solution).
I suppose I could go for the worst of both worlds and do what folks on the Internet call “the humble brag,” i.e. “Woe is me, my kids excel in so many things I’m exhausted going to all their activities.” (Forget the first part of the sentence–my kids are good at some things and suck at others; just like everyone else’s kids. But, for the record, schlepping around to get three kids to three different places for three different things–sometimes all at the same time–does get tiring. And sitting there, waiting while they complete their activities is boring. That’s not a humble brag. That’s a fact.)
So what’s the correct response? When you get asked about your kids, what do you do? Do you kvell? Do you kvetch? Or do you just say, “They’re fine,” and move on? (I have to admit, as a professional storyteller, I find the last option deeply unsatisfying. Personally, when I ask about people’s kids, I really want to hear the answer. But, then again, I’m also a bit of a yenta.)
Is there a way to talk about our family without sounding like you’re bragging? Or complaining? Or ungrateful? And, most importantly, how do you keep The Evil Eye from overhearing?
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