Conversations with kids: The artist at work

Topeka Daily Capital
January 17, 1960

The thing about talking to children is that you almost always learn something interesting. If you’re new at it, you may get a shock now and then, but the old timers are virtually shock-proof. They haven’t necessarily heard everything, but they’ve heard enough to expect anything.

I am an old timer, myself. I’ve done a lot of talking to children, often out of necessity. Around our house, I often find I’m on speaking terms only with some of the children. The younger ones, at that.

You can get into these conversations in any number of ways. For example, just walk in from work some evening and say to one of your sons, Hi, pal, what’s new?
“Aw, nothing, except Mr. Tompkins wasn’t home.”
Now, as you can see, the conversation is rolling. You say, he wasn’t home, huh?
“No, and we couldn’t get his ladder.”
You’re right. He said ladder. Ladder?
“Yeah. Will you borrow it in the morning and get my lunch box off the roof? I didn’t throw it up there.”
You knew he’d get that in. Who did?
“Kurt got mad because I threw his lunchbox and it went down the sewer….”

So you’ve learned something. Two lunchboxes at about 3 bucks apiece. 6 bucks shot.

Let’s say now that you’ve just lost six bucks yourself shooting 88 when you figured on about 81 and you go home looking for trouble. You storm in and collar two or three of them and yell, “who got that garden hose out in this kind of weather?”

Well, the first time I did that the children’s mother snapped, “I did, to wash off that mud you got on the walk that I asked you to wash off a week ago and quit yelling at the children and if you can’t play golf give up the game, and furthermore….”

Well, the second time I yelled about the garden hose, which was a long time later, one of them said: “We got it out to play filling station.”
“Yeah,” said another. “We filled up mom’s car.”
Oh, no. You didn’t really.
“Yes we did, daddy.”

Line up for broken arms.

It is through conversation that children learn discipline, and learn that parents are firm but fair. It was just the other day I told one of the girls she absolutely couldn’t go outside without her coat on.
“Why not?” she sobbed. “Amy is out there and doesn’t even have any pants on.” Two blocks away, too, it turned out.

You can walk in the house on occasion and upon close inspection find one there who isn’t yours. So you ask yours who their new friend is.
“His name is Johnny.”
Where does he live?
“We don’t know. He’s been here all afternoon.”

In those cases, we just turn on the front lights and wait for their search party to show up. And let me tell you, it’s better to wait for the search party than be in the search party. I’ve done both.

I like the real casual conversation where the child does the talking and you just grunt and nod as you read. I was doing this the other day when one of the girls said, “… and I frewed a rock and hit Tommy in the eye.”
Isn’t that cute the way she says frewed instead of th- WHAT?

It is through these conversations that I have learned of toys in the toilet, snakes on the patio, milk in the furnace vents and so on. And I learned something else the other night.

I chased all of them to another room period later I heard one say, “Daddy’s a dummy.”
“Yeah,” said another one.
“Yeah,” said another one.
“No, he isn’t,” said the oldest, and I was swelling with pride when he added: “he’s a dumbbell. That’s the way you’re supposed to say it.”

That boy is a born leader.

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