Something funny happens to us as our children grow up. They suddenly transform from these tiny, crying infants into these small human beings and somewhere along the way they become our friends. You’d think that would be normal: our children becoming our friends – but I think it’s more profound than that. There is a deeper meaning going on here.
Think about it. Look out at the animal kingdom. The animal parents that rear their offspring do it to the point where they should be capable of going off on their own and then it’s out of the nest. The simple goal is to protect and nurture and teach and then move on to rear another generation (or if you’re an opossum – probably to become road kill).
I would guess it’s a statement towards the complexity of our minds. Sure, we protect and nurture our children when they are very young (and to be fair – also sometimes when they’re older) – but the teaching is where we really shine. We do not just teach our children how to find food or how to use the bathroom or how to avoid speeding automobiles. We go beyond the life lesson’s that will allow them to grow into adults of their own so they can have their own children.
We teach them manners – because good manners are supposedly a sign that we’re fine upstanding citizens (supposedly being the key word). We teach them about the “no thank you” bite. We remind them to place their napkin in their lap and to say please and thank you and how to say grace and that it is impolite to leave the table until everyone is done eating – which can be a tough one to learn for a 5-year-old impatient to get back to playing.
We teach them to enjoy the simple things in life because sometimes there is nothing more important than the simple things. We teach them to ride a bike – even though we know how scary it seems and how much scraped knees hurt – because we also know how great the wind feels blowing through our hair. We teach them to fly kites. We teach them to skip stones and how to find a book in a library (you can never have enough knowledge).
We teach them how to stay sane in this crazy world – that reading a book before bedtime can be more relaxing than watching television. We teach them that dancing can be stress relieving in so many ways and that they should know at least one joke and to be able to tell it well because the importance of making someone smile is big. We try to help them understand the difference between needs and wants because sometimes what we want isn’t what we really need and they need to know how to be okay with that.
Just think about the things we teach our children. Really think about the lessons we teach them every day in the hope that some of them will stick. We teach them not only to tie their shows but also how to tie a tie. We teach them how to wrap birthday presents. We teach them to draw and paint and sculpt and write sonnets.
We teach them to explore. We show them how to tell time with a traditional clock (be prepared to explain why some clocks don’t have a second hand). We try and teach them to be good sports and to be respectful to everyone they meet. We teach them to read maps and novels and trashy gossip magazines in the proper setting. We do our best to teach them to clean up after themselves and to turn off all – well maybe, most – of the lights before leaving the house.
We sometimes have to throw a little fear into our lessons by showing them what could happen if they neglect to follow our instruction. My son James knows that if he doesn’t brush his teeth they might fall out and he’ll talk like the old farmer we met at the petting zoo (I didn’t tell him he could get dentures – better to have him have that fear so he keeps brushing). We’ve also taught them to cough into their elbow like Dracula so that they don’t make everyone else sick and then, of course – there is that whole “holding hands while crossing the street thing” and I don’t even want to get into the consequences of not following that rule.
But we also teach them things that are harder to quantify – and therefore they are much harder to teach. We try to teach them to deal with loss, rejection, and disappointment. We try and teach them to truly listen to what other people have to say. We hope they become independent and confident and that it’s okay to ask questions (and that there is no such thing as a “stupid” question). We try and teach them to love and forgive.
I know as a father there are certain things I want both of them to learn. I want them to know how to score a baseball game and hit a curve. I want them to learn how to safely build a campfire and put up a tent. I want them to know how to change a flat tire and how to change the oil in their car. We hope they know how to use a fire extinguisher – wait – do I even know how to do that? Oh yeah, the instructions are printed on the bottle. I’d also like them to know how to cook and how to parallel park without breaking a sweat.
I’d like them to be cultured. I’d like them to know how to properly eat with chopsticks and how to use an Oxford comma. I hope they can open a bottle of champagne better than I can (or a bottle of wine for that matter). I hope they can sing at least one song well and that they know how to dress for the occasion. I’d love for them to learn things I don’t know such as a second language or how to do a somersault. I want them to constantly seek answers and to never stop questioning authority.
There is so much we want to teach them – so much we feel we need to teach them and time moves so damned fast. They grow up in the blink of an eye and even human children get to the point where they need to fly away – we just get more time with them than most animals – and all we can do as parents is hope we were able to teach them the important things – because we will never have taught them everything. There will always be mysteries they will have to learn on their own – and I know all too well the fear of looking up for my mom or dad when confronted with something I cannot figure out and seeing that they’re not there – but then I reach into that toolbox and I find the right lesson and I use it to find my own answers.
We teach them so much more than how to just survive – we teach them how to find meaning in this life. The biologist will tell us that it’s our role to survive until we become adults and then pass along our DNA to another generation but there is so much more to life than that. We live in and incredible world full of incredible things and I want them to learn about all of that stuff and it is during these important lessons that they become more than just our offspring – they become our pupils and our co-explorers and our foils and ultimately our companions and our friends.