You know the significant differences between a 10-year-old boy and a grown man?
You drawing a blank? Yeah — me, too.
OK, grown-ups are taller, we shave, and our voices (excluding Jay Leno’s, maybe) are deeper. However, these are minor differences. When it comes to significant differences … well, that’s a different story altogether.
What prompted this meditation was an experience I had recently. Once a week, I volunteer at an Austin grade school – I’m a reading mentor to a 10-year-old boy. Last time I saw him, I ate lunch with him and two of his buddies. And for an entire hour, all I could think was, this is exactly like eating lunch with two of my buddies.
He and his friends were constantly interrupting, making fun of each other (bikes, looks, girlfriends) and trying to make each other squirt milk through their noses.
It was just like the last time I had lunch with three of my buddies. OK – we weren’t eating with sporks out of those little compartmentalized plastic trays, but that’s about the only difference. We spent the entire time interrupting, making fun of each other (cars, looks, girlfriends) and trying to make each other squirt beer through our noses.
I mentioned the school experience to a friend who has a 9-year-old boy, and he told me about lunching with his son and some of his friends in the school counselor’s office. There was a big basket of toys in the office, and when they boys finished their lunch they attacked the toy basket. In fact, my friend said, they fairly bolted their food just so they could spend more time with the toys.
When he related this to the counselor, she told him that she also has groups of girls eat in her office, and asked my friend if he had any idea how much time the average girl group spent playing with the toys.
The answer? If you’re a woman, it will surprise you not one jot to learn that the girls spend exactly zero time playing with the toys. You know why? Again, if you’re female, you know why – because they spent their time talking. Not bullshitting, not mocking each other, not poking each other in the eye – but talking.
The way men communicate (or don’t) is another thing that sets us apart from the civilized world; this was further underlined by a conversation I had with Liz on our way home from a party Saturday. She told me about a conversation she’d had with a woman she had just met there. She’d learned every possible detail about the woman – her work history, her educational background, her love life, where she’d honeymooned, her kids’ names and ages and where they went to school, how she ended up in Austin, what kind of car she drives, where she buys her bras and how she folds fitted sheets – all in about 15 minutes time. How did she find all this out? Well, they talked – that’s how.
Contrast this with a lunch I had recently with one of my oldest friends, whom I will call Frank. That morning, Liz had reminded me to be interested in Frank’s life, to be curious, to ask questions. Accordingly, when I got home, she started to grill me. How’s Frank’s job – does he still hate it? How’s his wife – did they ever figure out what’s causing her vertigo? Did he shit when he saw her tattoo? How’s their daughter – when’s she coming back from Paris? Did they sell their house? Are they still doing Pilates?
I confessed that none of these topics had come up in the admittedly limited scope of our conversation. Finally, I was able to pull up one pertinent fact gleaned from our lunch – Frank just bought a new car.
Liz congratulated me, and encouraged me to continue practicing my conversational skills. She was so happy that I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth: I knew Frank had a new ride because I was sitting by the window when he pulled up in a shiny new BMW 535.