Reading Between the Lines

Reading Between the Lines by Eric SchreibmanWe all remember the excitement of going on a first date – learning about a new girl, discovering common interests, learning something new about ourselves.

Now take that experience and multiply it by any factor you wish, and maybe you’ll begin to scratch the surface of taking your five-year-old daughter out for some focused one on one time.

Although this wasn’t necessarily our “first date,” I had the joy of taking my kindergarten-bound daughter Carter to and from her art classes several Saturdays in a row this past summer.  Fortunately, the classes were being held at the Cleveland Museum of Art, a full half-hour drive from our house.  Normally I would have preferred a much more convenient site for a weekly class, but as it turned out, the travel time was more valuable to me than I could have expected.  I came to cherish each trip to the Museum, not so much because of what the class was doing to expand Carter’s artistic skills, but for the thirty minutes (each way!) of uninterrupted conversation with this blossoming young soul.

If I had to pick one trait in CJ (“Carter Jaye”) for which I am most grateful, it is her incendiary curiosity about the world, and more specifically, about human nature.  Over the course of several Saturday morning drives, we explored all kinds of topics, ranging from the absurd to the sublime.  Not only did Carter’s questions spur me to think about deeper topics — e.g., what happens to the soul when the body dies? —  they forced me to consider the policy I chose to adopt in answering her incisive questions.

In this regard, I was astounded at how natural I felt in telling Carter the un-sugarcoated truth about even the most supposedly kid-sensitive topics.  Lying would be futile, anyway.  She would cross-examine the truth out of me, either right on the spot or at some point down the road after she made an experiential connection between a white lie I may have told and the truth I had been trying to blur!

The policy of truth is not only what Carter demanded, but it turned out to be cathartic for me.  And maybe that’s one distinction that makes this kind of “first date” different than the ones of our youth – the whole truth isn’t typically volunteered quite so readily when romance is in the air.

On one particularly muggy July day heading back from the Museum, the radio played one of my favorite songs of all time:  “Bertha” by the Grateful Dead.  The Dead’s music and lyrics are chock full of memorable images and intriguing human questions, but CJ had obviously tuned herself in to what she was hearing in this song, particularly when Jerry Garcia pleaded, “…. I wanna see what’s goin’ down, gonna try to read between the lines.”

I was lost in the jam, enjoying the breeze blowing through the open windows in the car, when Carter asked, “Daddy, how do you read between the lines?  Is that an idiom?”

I nearly drove off the road in astonishment – and joy.  I turned around and asked her to repeat herself, which she did, and then added, “You know, an idiom.  When you say something that doesn’t really mean what you actually said, but you still understand it.”  Wanting to probe further, I asked her to explain why “reading between the lines” was an idiom.  She paused for a delicious moment, and I could tell that the wheels were churning rapidly inside her five-year-old mind.  She said, “Well, we can’t always know the answer right away, so we have to think about the lines a little bit to figure them out.”

I struggled to think of a better way to put it, but became satisfied that Carter well understood the nuances of this particular idiom.  So instead I asked her where she learned the term, idiom.  She replied, “At school.  You know, like when you say you have ‘ants in your pants’ or ‘butterflies in your stomach.’  You don’t really have ants in your pants, you’re just always moving.  And you don’t really have butterflies in your stomach, you just are kinda nervous.”

As this version of “Bertha” wound to a close, I smiled in appreciation of the teachers who imparted such intuitive human knowledge to my daughter, and basked in the warm glow of Carter’s ability to read between the lines before she could even read the lines themselves.



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