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Mary Novaria Headshot

My Enquiring Mind Needs to Know When to Shut Up

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I've never water boarded anyone, although I have been accused of torturing my family with interrogation. My husband frequently slashes his hand across his throat, signaling me, in broadcast jargon, to "cut" when I pepper our 20-year-old daughter with questions. "How do feel about this?" "Have you thought about doing that?"

It could be the reporter in me, trained to ask questions, or maybe I was born this way. Perhaps, as a child, I found the answer, "because I said so," so profoundly unsatisfying that I got into the habit of digging, asking what the press calls follow-up questions. I did, after all, go to journalism school on the Woodward and Bernstein wave.

As the old supermarket tabloid once advertised, "Enquiring Minds Want to Know!" Only, in my case, I believe it's an enquiring heart, one that longs for meaningful conversation, profound understanding and the deepest connection. I'm walking a tightrope, stepping carefully and wobbly, my heart making its way across to my young adult daughter's. I seek to know her on a more intimate level, what she feels, what she hopes for.

It's that time in her life, though, when it's her job to pull away. She's ready to grow independently of me, which is what we parents want, right? So the wrong question, or even the right question at the wrong time, is apt to bring a gust of wind that tips me right off the high wire or at times, as my own mother would have said, my high horse.

My mom's never been the "let's talk about our feelings" type. Now, because she is 81 and has dementia, she doesn't have much to say about anything, so I resort to cross examination to draw her out. "Who took you to church on Sunday?" "Are you taking your medicine?" "Did you go to exercise class today?" Too often for my liking the answers are "I don't know" or "I don't remember." At medical appointments, she looks to me for answers when the doctor queries her, then I'm the one who has to say, "I don't know." Sometimes her answers are only "Yes" or "No" and I feel like I'm playing Twenty Questions. Is it bigger than a breadbox?

As with my daughter, I'm seeking connection with my mother, trying to reach the heart behind the eyes that have lost their gleam. If I don't ask the questions, the dialog with my mother -- such as it is -- will cease, and I'm not ready for the conversation to end.

I wasn't raised in a touchy-feely house. I found my own heart through faith, self-discovery and deep friendships, including one with a heart-friend whose grown children actually do limit her queries to 20 at any given time! I don't think my parents ever asked about my feelings. They asked about my grades, what time I'd have the car home and did I really think I was leaving the house dressed like that. I'm sure I never thought: "Gee, I wish Mom and Dad would ask me about my feelings." How would I have articulated them if they had? Did I even know what I felt? I doubt my folks' lack of inquiry was by design, but maybe I can learn something from their arbitrary tactic. I bet if I quit putting my daughter on the spot, stop trying to drag the feelings out of her, she'll be free to unearth her spirit and trust her heart in ways that just aren't possible when you feel pressured to come up with the right answer all the time.

So it's a little absurd, really, this paradox in which I find myself as I long for connection with these two dearest women in my life. With my mom, I need to keep asking questions. With my daughter, I just need to shut up.