Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Conversation Openers

I have a friend who is taking a long road trip with her toddler, infant, husband, and mother-in-law this fall.  She's an old pro at the travel thing, so she's not stressing about the small people, but she is finding the prospect of 30 hours in the car with her MIL unpleasant.  Why?  Because she feels awkward staring out the window, entertaining her kids, and ignoring the other grown-ups in the car.  But her MIL feels no compulsion to even attempt conversation. 

Now on my recent 60 hour road trip with my preschooler and toddler, I brought 60 toys.  The idea was that every hour, I could bust a new toy out of the bag.  Granted, most of the toys were simply packed from our copious toy, craft, and office supply collections.  But having something "new" every hour provided a modicum of excitement and anticipation.  If the kids were playing, eating, or sleeping happily, I didn't bother interrupting them, so many of the toys didn't make their appearance at the beginning of the hour at all.  And I certainly didn't need 60 toys, because the kids slept for at least 90 minutes every day anyway.  But, I felt good having a bag of tricks in reserve, and as every parent knows, kids tend play longer with the single toy available than they do with any given toy in a group of options.  So even the things that wouldn't have been good for more than 5 minutes at home stretched out to 10 or even 20 when presented all alone as *the* new toy for this hour.

What do the previous paragraphs have in common?  I've suggested to my friend having a new topic of conversation for each hour of the trip.  She can bust them out when the kids are eating, playing, or sleeping happily and she starts to feel awkward sitting in silence with her MIL.  If the MIL does her part, they can chit-chat for a while on any given topic, and if she doesn't, my friend can feel she's done her best to be sociable and happily settle back to look out the window until the kids need her attention again.

In the interest of being a good friend (read: Because I am obsessive compulsive), I've even done the mental work of coming up with a list of topics to start conversations with an older relative.  Feel free to use them any way you'd like.

  1. Childhood pets: Did you have them?  Did your kids have them?  Should kids in general have them?
  2. What would you do if you won the lottery?
  3. Memorable food: Holiday or special occasion meals, travel food, the best thing you’ve ever eaten, your favorite go-to recipes.
  4. Baby & toddler milestones: when did your kids reach them? 
  5. Favorite TV shows OR why you don’t watch TV.
  6. Ideas for making family occasions memorable.
  7. Your plans for coping with more extreme weather.
  8. Most and least favorite sports to watch and play.
  9. Doping in professional sports.
  10. Is the Internet destroying reading?  What about magazines?
  11. Read any good books lately?
  12. Opinions of ethnic foods.  Which do you enjoy, not enjoy, and why?
  13. How to choose clothing.  Philosophy and practical application.  Both for yourself and for kids.
  14. Wine, beer, break, cheese, or pickle making.  Pros and cons of making vs. buying.  Personal experiences.
  15. Memories of school. 
  16. How to think about school for today’s children.  Public, private, home school, and why or what to consider.  The state of education.
  17. How to feed children.  Philosophy and practical application.
  18. Travel: Do you enjoy it?  What parts?  Why or why not?
  19. Tiny homes: 400 sq ft apartments in NY and San Francisco, Tumbleweed Tiny Houses from 130 to 500 sq ft.  What do you think?  What would you put in one?
  20. Collections: Do you or did you ever have one?  What or why not?
  21. Dating and courtship: How you met, dated, fell in love with your husband.  Philosophy on dating and courtship in general.
  22. The perfect day, if you were going to live it over and over like the movie Groundhog Day.
  23. Jobs: Best, worst, your first, your perfect.
  24. Technology: Your opinion of tech in general.  What you love and hate of new tech.
  25. Amazing places you’ve been.
  26. Things you are proud of. 
  27. Opinions of GMO crops.
  28. Is peace possible in the Middle East?  How?
  29. Should the US use capital punishment?
  30. Games you’ve enjoyed.  What games did you play with your kids?  What games did you play as a child?
  31. If time and money were no object, where in the world would you like to try living?
  32. A place you’d like to visit but have never been.
  33. Worst fashion trends.
  34. Your and your children’s favorite toys at different ages and stages.
  35. Five words to describe you.  Five words to describe other people in your family.
  36. What do you think of cooking shows?  Celebrity chefs?  Food as entertainment in general?
  37. Opinions on Global Warming.  Is it a thing?  What should be done?
  38. Have you traveled internationally?  If not, why?  If yes, where did you go and what did you learn?
  39. Race relations in the US: George Zimmerman, Detroit, how to raise children to respect other races.
  40. College: Did you go?  Is it worth the cost?  Will it continue to have the same significance in the future as it does now?
  41. Energy security in the US.  Fracking, peak oil, alternative energy, green initiatives, your family’s relationship with energy.
  42. Domestic auto makers: the bail out, the direction they are headed now, what to consider when buying a car.
  43. Medications and kids: When they’re justified during illness, overmedicating ADHD, teens abusing prescription meds.
  44. Favorite movies: Recently? Of all time?
  45. What are your most precious possessions?  Do you own any heirlooms?  Are heirlooms or antiques important?
  46. Favorite children’s books.
  47. Hobbies: Which do you enjoy now?  Which have you enjoyed in the past?  Any that you’ve considered but never attempted?
  48. Your memories of family life that you hope your children remember too.
  49. What values did you try to instill in your children?  Do you feel they exemplify those values?
  50. What kinds of music do you hate?  Why?
Do you have any suggestions for further topics?