There is a girl in Dylan’s class who brings the most amazing lunches from home. Her bag always includes a selection of Tupperware-type containers filled with wholesome servings of things like quinoa and kale chips. Once I saw her eating beets. BEETS.

I personally have zero experience with this type of child. A third grader happily tucking into a bowl of beets is pretty much as exotic and incomprehensible to me as those heptapod aliens that communicated via squirts of mystical space-ink in Arrival. Like, yes I see that this young human appears to be willingly consuming a vegetable, but I’m going to need a team of physics professors using about ten whiteboards to decipher what it all means.

Here’s what Dylan takes to school every day of his life: a peanut butter sandwich made with cinnamon bread, an Annie’s fruit snack, and a bag of pretzels or chips. Every. Single. Day. I used to make him eat the school lunch because I thought he’d sort of be forced to try new things or maybe get motivated by his friends eating their lunch, but then I joined him for lunch a couple times and saw that he was reluctantly nibbling about a molecule of whatever he decided was least offensive from the cafeteria menu and throwing the rest away. Then I tried sending in different types of lunches — how about some applesauce? Whole wheat bread, at least? A CLIF BAR COME ON KID WORK WITH ME HERE — until my last fuck was lying in the trash along with everything else.

So now he gets his motley collection of processed carbohydrates and he’s happy as can be. Every now and then I read some pearl-clutching article about how parents are sending their kids to school with these terrible unhealthy lunches and I figure the author must have ended up giving birth to a Beet Kid because otherwise they’d know that you can die on that Whole-30-shaped hill or you can send in the goddamned Cool Ranch Doritos because at least they’ll get eaten.

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I was at an event yesterday where the participants were asked to do a listening exercise. We got into pairs and one person had to talk for two or three minutes while the other listened, and the listener was supposed to just hold eye contact, without any nodding or providing facial/verbal cues of any kind.

(A brief aside to state for the record how much I hate the partner up! request when it comes to group activities. I suppose there are some people who simply turn to the person next to them and tip their head, like SHALL WE DANCE? and everything’s great, but for me I find myself facing dead ahead while I desperately try and scan for a sense of receptiveness from whoever’s nearest and when I finally summon enough courage to orient myself in their direction I feel like everyone else has instantly made a new best friend for life and is in the midst of exchanging phone numbers and pricking their fingers to become blood bonded while my person and I are making that emoticon face with the perfectly flat mouth and saying things like “Uh…so.”)

Most people agreed that it was extremely difficult to listen without providing any sort of response. For me it felt not only robotic, but sort of creepy: I was highly aware of the eye contact, and as the seconds ticked by I felt more and more like I wasn’t just delivering a neutral gaze, I was boring holes into her skull with my unflinching eagle-stare. Then I kept losing focus on what she was saying because I was distracted by the effort of not nodding or smiling or crumpling my face sympathetically or any of the things I normally do when I’m talking to someone.

It wasn’t much easier to be the person doing the talking. Afterwards, the instructor said how she believed that talking to someone who’s not offering any distractions in the way of feedback allows someone to get deeper into what they’re saying, but I felt like it was the difference between engaging in a conversation and delivering a speech. Not even a speech, actually, because at least you might get a chuckle from the audience at some point — this was more like reciting the night’s specials to a couple who was masking their impatience (I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE BAKED ORANGE ROUGHY) with blank facial expressions.

The whole point of the exercise, at least if I understand it correctly, was to highlight how we can be better listeners by not allowing our own biases and opinions and conversational tics to distract or influence the person we’re listening to. The general end goal makes sense, but if we were being asked to demonstrate best-practice social engagement, I want nothing to do with it. I mean, I find human interactions challenging enough without taking everything encouraging out of the picture. Without the nodding and smiling and face-wrinkling and eyebrow-shenanigan-ing, you know what you’ve got? A phone call, that’s what. A. PHONE. CALL.

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