Many weeks ago, my two young sons asked to be part of Humanitou. They often have seen me working on Humanitou conversations at our table, transcribing, editing, preparing photos, publishing. They wanted me to interview them. So I did.
In this experiment, I got to test my abilities as an interviewer, a conversationalist with naive hopes of pulling life’s answers from five- and seven-year-old boys.
Does the humor I, as their dad, notice in these conversations land for me only because of my intimate awareness of their personalities … or is it universal? We’ll see.
In a sense, all parents who ask, “How was your day? What did you do at school?” are stymied interviewers trying to crack through armor in hopes of … something, something special, useful, profound, fun … something that makes us feel like we’re good parents … anything.
If that has been you, then you know the struggle and humor of this experiment. You also will recognize the moments of honesty and raw sweetness that all kids have.
Often enough, the give-and-takes below are almost nonsensical. Maybe comically so. But in a more meaningful sense, this is documentation of something we often take for granted and let slide by.
How often do kids’ words, their styles of communicating, their awkward rhythms, and their reaches for vocabulary get noted, preserved? If nothing else, this is that.
What follows shows my attempts to hold the focus of Taos, 7, and Jasper, 5, in conversation. Each Q&A challenges the boys’ abilities to respond from somewhere deeper than the silent stares or “I don’t know” answers we so often get.
And, as it turns out, a number of the boys’ responses hold sweet truths we all could use more of in our lives. Those alone make these conversations a worthwhile reminder, too, of who we all were, at least at one time: love-filled saints of wisdom.
Oh, and then there’s the critical question of, “Who’s your favorite, Mama or Papa?”
Conversation with Taos, 7
Humanitou: What is it you love about skiing? What does it feel like?
Taos: Basically, it feels like … it feels awesome to me.
Humanitou: Can you tell me more? When you’re skiing fast down the mountain and you feel the wind in your face, what are you feeling inside?
Humanitou: You feel like you’re cool?
Taos: No. I feel cold.
Humanitou: I mean inside, what are you feeling?
Taos: Inside my coat?
Humanitou: No. Inside your body, inside your heart, inside your mind. What are you thinking and feeling as you go down the mountain?
Taos: That skiing is awesome, because I have so much experience with it.
Humanitou: What’s awesome about it? Can you go deeper? Can you tell me more?
Taos: I can go into deeper and higher levels with skiing.
Humanitou: Can you explain the excitement you feel?
Taos: The excitement I feel … really, really happy that I can do that stuff.
Humanitou: What is something that you don’t like to do as much as skiing?
Taos: Something that I don’t like to do as much is homework.
Humanitou: Why does skiing feel better than homework?
Taos: Because you get time to have fun and be free from homework and stuff.
Humanitou: You like to go fast. Why?
Taos: Because then I can actually do parallel turns, mostly, better. If I’m going slow, I can only do that (gestures a wedge shape with his arms) and not actually turn.
Humanitou: What if you didn’t ski?
Taos: If I didn’t ski, then I wouldn’t have liked skiing and I wouldn’t know how to be as good as I am.
Humanitou: What if you never get to ski again, how would that make you feel?
Taos: Well, I actually would always get to ski again, because when I’m a grown up I can choose if I want to or not want to, and I am going to choose to.
Humanitou: What kinds of things do you like to do on skis?
Taos: Tricks. The jumps.
Humanitou: What are some tricks you’ve already been doing?
Taos: I’ve done 180s on the ground, 90s in the air, um …
Humanitou: Did you land the 90s? Did that go well?
Taos: Yeah. But I was half-way backwards.
Humanitou: Then what happened?
Taos: I was like … beep … (gestures a hard land, with his skis perpendicular to the slope, and falling over).
Humanitou: Then what happened?
Taos: I just kept on with my day.
Humanitou: What are you curious about in life?
Taos: I’m curious about what it will be like in the future, like hoverboards. I just really want a hoverboard, if they invent it. I’m curious about what the future will be like, what they will have in the future.
Humanitou: How would you describe the feelings in your heart about life, people … ?
Taos: I have no idea what that means.
Humanitou: Fair enough. Let me see if I can ask it in a better way, or ask a better question.
Taos: Ask a better question.
Humanitou: What are things that are important to you? What matters to you?
Taos: What matters is that I get to have the fun that I have and do what I love.
Humanitou: What do you love?
Taos: I love sports. I love games, Xbox games. I love electronics. I like to do board games and other stuff.
Humanitou: Are you a creative person?
Humanitou: What do you like to create? How are you creative?
Taos: I’m creative, because I like to use hot glue to build things. And whenever I think of an idea, it gives me even more ideas to build onto that thing.
Humanitou: What would you like people to think of when they think of you?
Taos: I have no idea how to answer that question.
Humanitou: What is the biggest accomplishment in your life, so far?
Taos: The biggest accomplishment is that I did a black diamond on skiing.
Humanitou: How did you feel about that, when you skied a black diamond?
Taos: I felt awesome about that and felt like I could do even more, like double-black diamonds. But I don’t know where they are.
Humanitou: What do you wish grown-ups understood about kids?
Taos: I wish they understood that kids are awesome and they can do creative and amazing things.
Humanitou: Do you think it would be better if kids ran the world, instead of grown-ups?
Taos: No. I don’t want to teach a grown-up.
Taos: That actually would be boring.
Humanitou: You think you’re ready to move out and get your own place to live?
Humanitou: What is your biggest dream?
Taos: My biggest dream is just being free and getting to do what I want to do. (whispers) Are we allowed to stop now?
Humanitou: Soon. What are five words that you would use to describe yourself?
Taos: Strong, young, playful, awesome and creative.
Humanitou: Creative. Are you an artist?
Humanitou: What does it mean to you to be an artist?
Taos: That I do creative stuff like 3-D, 2-D, stuff like that. Paint, draw, glue.
Humanitou: Would you like to be an artist when you’re a grown-up?
Taos: Well, everybody’s an artist. I don’t want to be a public artist. I just want to be my own artist, to just do it by myself.
Humanitou: That’s interesting. Why do you want to do it just for yourself and not make it public?
Taos: ’Cause I just don’t want to be with a studio or anything. Are we done yet?
Conversation with Jasper, 5
Humanitou: Jasper, what’s important to you in life?
Jasper: What’s important to me is caring about others and love.
Humanitou: What do you love?
Jasper: Snowboarding and doing sports and cooking.
Humanitou: I think there might be something else. You say you’re a chef and an …
Humanitou: Why is it important to you to be an artist?
Jasper: Well, ’cause around two (years of age) I started doing art. I did art at my old schools. Then I got talked into it, then that’s what my life got made with being an artist.
I didn’t want to get angry at my art. I just wanted to have what I have be goodful. — Jasper
Humanitou: How does it make you feel to be an artist?
Jasper: Mostly great, ’cause I don’t really do what I paint. I’m thinking just use what I use to make whatever painting I make.
Humanitou: Can you tell me more about how it feels when you make a painting or a drawing?
Jasper: It makes me feel cool, ’cause when I was a baby I never got to do this stuff ’cause I was little. And now I get to do it when I was wishing to do it.
Humanitou: Sometimes when you make art you get upset when you think you’re doing something that isn’t good or you don’t like it. Why do you sometimes get upset with yourself about your art?
Jasper: I don’t know. It’s just what I have in my body to feel like. I didn’t want to get angry at my art. I just wanted to have what I have be goodful for painting that thing.
Humanitou: Why is it important to you to be good at your art?
Jasper: It’s ’cause when I grow up I want to be famous, and I want to have a gallery so people can look at my art, and not just show it off to my family.
Humanitou: Why do you want lots of people to know you and know your art?
Jasper: Mostly because in my real future I feel like I’m a good artist with my paintings. I want to become even better, so I can become famous.
Humanitou: But why do you want to be famous? Do you know what it means to be famous?
Jasper: Yeah. It’s kinda be rich and have people know you.
Humanitou: OK. So why do you want to be famous?
Jasper: Mostly because I like doing art, and it’s just my thing.
Humanitou: What do you love about yourself?
Jasper: What I love about myself is I do art and I do creative things. If I wasn’t born, then I would not have done that. So, I have my future and I like having it, ’cause I get to do cool things.
Humanitou: What would you like grown-ups to understand about you or about kids?
Jasper: I would like them to understand that when I’m just a kid, I can show my paintings. When I can grow up, they can already know me and I just can do what I do.
Humanitou: How do you decide what to paint or draw?
Jasper: I don’t really decide, I just paint what I do.
Humanitou: How would you define happiness?
Jasper: I would find happiness from doing what I like to do, and just being happy with activities and fun stuff.
Humanitou: What does happiness mean?
Jasper: Happiness means you are happy and you have a smile. It also means that you’re glad for someone that does what you love.
Humanitou: Is there anything you’ve learned in life that you would tell your younger self?
Jasper: Yes. Mostly what I do and what I think to be creative with. I just like being what I am.
Humanitou: What does the word love mean to you?
Jasper: It just kind of means what I know about it.
Humanitou: What do you know about it?
Jasper: I just know that we have love inside us and it can also be true to others that love can be caring about someone else that is your friend or your dad or your mom, or your brother or sister.
Humanitou: Is there anybody that you admire, that you like what they do and think they are great?
Jasper: Yeah. It’s not about the people. I just like doing what I paint. I love myself, because I don’t really see much other people do art when they’re a kid. So, I just have to do it with myself, because I don’t know anybody else. I’m not really the judge of them and I don’t want to judge them around, so they can be like artists.
Humanitou: Are there grown-up artists you’ve learned about and like?
Jasper: Mostly about Jackson Pollock. I learned about him and I just know that he likes to splatter his paint with dots everywhere. He has a paint brush, dips it and throws it everywhere on the thing, the canvas.
Humanitou: I like Jackson Pollock, too. That’s cool. What’s exciting about life to you?
Jasper: Nothing’s really exciting to me except doing what I love to do and what I care about.
Humanitou: Who’s your favorite, Mama or Papa?
Jasper: Oh … (uncertain stare and pause)
Humanitou: I’m just being silly.
Jasper: I didn’t want to say I didn’t love you.
Humanitou: All good. I like your answer. What makes you smile? What makes you happy?
Jasper: Not really anything makes me happy except just doing what it is to do.
Humanitou: What do you think of Manitou?
Jasper: I think it’s a cool place, because we didn’t have this in Missouri and it’s really hot there. We have a lot of stuff here to make us live.
Humanitou: What is one place in the world that you think you want to travel?
Jasper: Probably to all the places that I have not been, all the places that I didn’t go since I was a baby.
Humanitou: That’s a lot of places. The world is big.
Jasper: But I’m not going to go to the North Pole or the South Pole.
Jasper: Because it’s too cold, and I can freeze into an iceberg.
Photographs by Adam + Becca Williams (@connectsdots)