Years ago, Steve and I started asking our kids this one question everyday. I don’t remember where I learned it or how we decided it was a good idea, but over dinner, homework, something, we’d look at our two young boys and ask: “Ok, ready? Have you thought about it, yet? What was your high, low and unexpected today?” The question was (obviously) designed to spark conversation and thought, but it wasn’t overwhelming for them or presented in a way that seemed like the Spanish Inquisition. It didn’t require a lot of explanation and it could be shared within 1.54 minutes. Or less, if the day had been particularly bad. But it worked.
The evening habit continued as we added Ellie and then the twins to our family. Nick and Jacob then would sometimes start the conversation themselves (which always made my heart burst a little, truth be told). “Mom, can we play the High Low Unexpected game, now? I’ve a really good one for my Unexpected!” Seriously. They’d be this engaged or enthusiastic. And if you’ve raised teenage boys, you know that Enthusiasm isn’t exactly the prevailing energy around the dinner table.
So, we’d all “play.” Ellie started in when she was about 2 or 3, and she’d proudly say, “Well, I ‘didn’t unexpect’ my dolls to get lost forever. ” So, our verbiage changed and we all started saying that adorable double negative and thinking it was pretty funny.
Guests play. Family plays. Dinner company, babysitters, whomever. You’re there while we’re answering our One Question, we want to hear about you.
This is the One Question that has guided and molded our family’s evenings for a decade. It’s been one of the best things we’ve done as parents (seriously) because it’s taught us that a) everyone has something to offer, b) everyone’s days are interesting and c) the ordinary is not really that ordinary.
High . Low. Unexpected. This is life. It’s the roller coaster we ride, for as long as we can stay strapped in.
1. There can’t be any “I didn’t have a high,” or “There wasn’t an unexpected.” (Of course these initial responses are illuminating in themselves). So, give your lowest high or your highest low, if you need to. But look for it, try. Somewhere, in your everyday, is a little happiness. Something happened you didn’t plan for – maybe it’s also your low? Or maybe it’s the same as your “best part of my day,” as Tommy describes his high. But every day, these pieces exist: happiness, disappointment and a little surprise. It’s true. Fact.
2. Listen to what others say. Yes, it’s about you sharing your day with us, but it’s also about you learning what happened (or didn’t) in your family’s lives. This is called Being a Good Human, and sometimes we (mostly me) need to be reminded how to do that. We’re so eager to share, we forget to listen.
3. Ask questions. “Wait, you did WHAT?!. . .but why?!” “Wait, your unexpected was joining the chess club? But you don’t even play.” “Oh no, why was THAT your high? That’s all you got? Dang, well, if that was your high, how bad was your whole day?”
“High Low Unexpected” has turned into a family habit, a sweet tradition. We still use the double negative script, we still all share and we try very hard to listen.
This easy and bullet-style conversation happens over dinosaur-shaped chicken and engages even your most reticent players. Sometimes, when my big boys were still at home, this was the only window I’d get into their real day. Sometimes, you get real lucky and windows are opened into souls and wishes and heartaches and you can learn about, love and appreciate those people sitting right next to you.
The unexpected. That’s the key. Usually, the high and low aren’t the hard parts. Everyone can think of their peaks and valleys pretty easily–which doesn’t make them unimportant, it’s just not all that surprising to have them.
But the unexpected. All of a sudden, that kid or husband or friend or even yourself who SWORE nothing happened, that lunch was fine, that the meeting didn’t actually matter, that traffic was boring and recess was hot and lonely, is sharing about his day, and the people, experiences and dynamics that affected him. The game disappears and the conversation happens. It’s magic. It’s High Low Unexpected.
Maybe try it? See what happens? I’d love to hear.