Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Most Important Thing

“What’s the most important thing humans need to have to be alive?”
My kindergartner’s eyes twinkled across the dinner table as she anticipated stumping me with some newfound knowledge. Since beginning school, she’s taken a know-it-all thrill in relaying her newest educational conquests each day.
“Did you know that baby bats…” she’ll begin. “And the quarter has Washington’s picture…” she reminds me. Quite often, she relays something I’d either forgotten or never knew in the first place. (Bats, by the way, are fascinating creatures.)
There are also times she offers a scrap of information with such joy, I can’t bear telling the truth: I already knew that. I figure that even if I’m being somewhat disingenuous, she’s reinforcing her education by teaching others what she learned that day. And she’s adding to her excitement over what she might learn next.
But part of me (probably the know-it-all part which she has, indeed, inherited from me) wants to stump her once in a while. I want to be the one to bring scraps of awesome information on which she can sharpen her mind.
Since my daughter is usually skeptical of any knowledge I might presume to assert, I find myself trying overly hard to convince her of my intelligence. If we’re talking about an upcoming event, I try to work in a discussion about the event’s topic – something fascinating, of course. Or I’ll insert a sneaky lesson into every instance of conversation. If she asks for a story, I’ll do my darndest to make it address a current issue we’re working to resolve at home, like sharing or compassion.
While she does love learning something new, she almost never sits still long enough to hear my pretentious story when all she wanted was a bit of imaginary entertainment.
So much for bringing an awesome scrap of information, eh? Now, if I’d invite her to add bits of creativity and excitement to the story, then we might be getting somewhere.
As it is, I’ve had to train myself to not be quite so intentional. I don’t mean as a parent in general; I wholeheartedly believe that it’s my job to think ahead about how I should be parenting my children. But at least in these moments of excited discussion, I need to take her lead. Let her be intentional. Let her be interesting.
When she asks a question about what’s necessary to sustain life, that’s probably not the time to wax philosophically about how much the human race depends upon peace and love in order to thrive. It’s probably not the time to list, in decreasing order of importance, all the parts of our world that keep us alive: water, food, shelter, medicine, oxygen, etc. And it’s definitely not the time to show just how intelligent I, as her mother, can be. 
I have nothing to prove.
Except, perhaps, just how much I love the second-hand experience of her joyful learning. So as she sat across the table from me, waiting for my answer and expecting to tell me something of which I was sure to be uninformed, I tossed aside any moral lesson I might’ve wished to impart.
Instead, I guessed an answer, as she so desired. And I guessed wrong.
“No, mom!” she crowed with good humor. “Humans need AIR to BREATHE! That’s the MOST important thing!”
And, schooled in the way to interact with her in these moments, I smiled. It was the simplest answer all along.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?