When I was a mama of three very tiny, very messy, very beautiful rug rats, we had days that went on for lifetimes. My husband, Craig, left at six o’clock every morning. As I watched his showered, ironed self leave the house, I felt incredibly blessed and thrilled to have so much time alone with my babies—and incredibly terrified and bitter to have so much time alone with my babies.
When Craig returned each evening at six o’clock (he actually returned at 5:50 but took a stunningly long time to get the mail), he would walk through the door, smile, and say, “So! How was your day?”
This question was like a spotlight pointed directly at the chasm between his experience of a “day” and my experience of a “day.” How was my day?
The question would linger in the air while I stared at Craig as the baby shoved her hand in my mouth while the oldest screamed, “Mommy, I need help!” and the middle one cried in the corner because I never, ever, ever let her drink the dishwasher detergent (“Not even once, Mommy!”). I’d look down at my spaghetti-stained pajama top, unwashed hair, and gorgeous baby on my hip. My eyes would pause to notice the toys peppering the floor and the kids’ stunning new art on the fridge. And I’d want to say:
How was my day? Today has been a lifetime. There were moments when my heart was so full, I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was certain I’d explode. I was both lonely and desperate to be alone. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst. Husband, when your day is totally dependent on the moods and needs and schedules of tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats, your day is all these things and none of these things, sometimes within the same three-minute period. But this is not a complaint. Don’t try to fix it. I wouldn’t have my day any other way.
But I’d be too tired to say all of that. So I’d smile and say, “Fine.” But I’d be a little sad because love is about being seen and known, and I wasn’t being seen or known. It made me feel lonely.
So we went to therapy.
There we learned to ask each other better questions. If we really want to know our people, we need to ask questions that convey “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel.” If we don’t want throwaway answers, we can’t ask throwaway questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love. So Craig and I don’t ask “How was your day?” anymore.
After a few years of practicing intimate question asking, we now find ourselves asking each other questions like these:
• When did you feel loved today?
• When did you feel lonely?
• What did I do today that made you feel appreciated?
• What did I say that made you feel unnoticed?
• What can I do to help you right now?
I know. Weird at first. But not after a while. Not any weirder than asking the same empty questions that elicit the same empty answers. Now when our kids get home from school, we don’t say, “How was your day?” Because they don’t know. Their day was lots of things.
Instead we ask:
• How did you feel during your spelling test in English class?
• What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?
• Did you feel lonely at all today?
• Were there any times you felt proud of yourself today?
And I never ask my friends, “How are you?” Because they don’t know either. Instead I ask:
• How is your mom’s chemo going?
• How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?
• What’s going really well with work right now?
Questions are like gifts. It’s the thought behind them that the receiver feels. Love is specific. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become.
Life is a conversation. Make it a good one.