From where I sit to write this I hear the clock ticking the hours down to when I get to ask my favourite question of the day: How was school today? My three-year-old son spends three short hours at school but when I can get him talking about it, those three hours are magically transformed into an entire day. His childish hyperbolism stretches out every activity and every word spoken  in the classroom to suggest an entire day spent in a parallel universe where parents don't exist and everything revolves around little people with way too much energy.

In those three hours, I try to cram as much activity as I can. I finish chores at home and try to do some writing. I supervise and delegate. I make calls and write down notes. I catch up on some much needed reading and indulge in mindless surfing. I take care of every little thing that can be done before my little man is back from school and walking behind me offering to help, all the while asking a million questions.

As I go through my morning my mind is constantly working up a dozen new ways to ask leading questions that will give me an insight into what went on at school. Some days a simple, "What did you do at school?" just doesn't cut it. So I have to dig, and prod, and coax, and cajole. Sometimes I even bore him with details of my morning in the hope that that may elicit precious tidbits of information. After all no one wants to be the Mom that asks the teacher all the questions.

Surprisingly, there aren't many questions in the world capable of eliciting a response as varied as "How was school today?" The answer can cover the gamut from a favourable "It was great!" to a completely dejected, "Awful" or even an ambiguous, "It was ok."

There are days when my son talks about counting fish and playing with beads and I love those days. It completely sends me over the moon when he tells me he finished his snack box, peeked into his friend's boxes and wants the same thing that they brought to school. I beam with pride when he shows off what he learned that day and says he answered when his teacher called his name. It brings me great joy when he talks about a new activity or says he waited his turn to sit on the toy cars in the playground.

'It was bad'

When I dropped my son to school a few days ago he was in high spirits. His teacher had told him they would be doing something exciting and he was really looking forward to it.

Three hours later, I picked him up. No smile as he turned the corner from his classroom. He didn't run to me, he just walked. He didn't make an attempt to take his bag off from his shoulders and make me carry it, he shouldered the weight himself.

"How was your day?" I asked him.

"It was bad."

"Why was it bad?"

"Meh...," he concluded the conversation.

"Meh?!" Not what I was ready for. The choice of words seemed to be too wise for his age.

Time to prod, I figured.

"What happened? Did you fall? Did the teacher say something to you?"

"No, nothing," he shrugged and turned to look out the window.

Have you ever noticed how an unfavourable, unintentionally grown up answer from your toddler has the incredible power to make you spiral out of control? It nags you at every turn in the day and niggles you at the back of your mind. It is even endowed with powers to keep you up at night. I looked through his bag to see if there was a note from school detailing an incident. Or if he had lost his favourite snack box and bottle. Everything was in place.

For three days after that I waited for a smile, for an activity to be exaggerated, for a story to be told, for a make believe scene to be acted out, but I got nothing. He was fine at home, just didn't want to talk about school. After three days of consecutive "the day was bad", I knew there had to be an answer. Only I didn't have the right question to  ask him.

So I became that mom and went to his teacher.

She said there was nothing wrong. He was eating and participating. He was taking bathroom breaks and listening to instructions. But of course, his best friend hadn't been coming to school for the past few days, maybe there was something there?

With the right questions the floodgates opened. His friend was absent from school since earlier that week. He hated talking to the boy his teacher made him sit next to, he brought very boring things to eat: vegetables and all. His new friend did not like playing with blocks and only wanted to play fighting games. And worst of all, he didn't give him a turn on the toy car.

And so I sit next to him and watch as he rants against the ills of his world. I smile, satisfied at one more battle won. All with a power of a simple question.