January 15, 2013

Children Teach Us So Much (Like for Example How to Get Silly Putty Out of Upholstery)

One thing that doesn't seem to change about children as they get older is that they still don't wait to bring up a difficult issue (is it teeth or is it ear infection?, is this a discipline issue or is it an issue of emotional needs not being met?, what does this decision mean for future applications of our parenting philosophy?) at a time when you're well-rested, well-fed, and sitting comfortably and approachably by the fire sipping your after-dinner brandy and hoping for an exhilarating exchange of ideas.

Instead it is at 6:10 a.m. while the coffee is still brewing that two of them want to call in judicial moderation on the subject of whether Child One WAS or WAS NOT out of the bathroom by 6:05 as required by household law, AND whether that household law is fair and appropriate. Or it is at 10:00 p.m. as I am wearily brushing my teeth that one of the children asks why religious people can't just follow the rules as they understand them, rather than spending most of their time monitoring whether other people are following those rules. (YES, dear children, and perhaps you could apply this new-found insight to your own CONSTANT TATTLING.)

I've read a lot of stuff, mostly written in metallic script on greeting cards, about how much children TEACH us. Perhaps my own children are somewhat stupider than the standard-issue child, and that is why so far I don't feel they've taught me anything---and in fact, I have to spend a lot of time explaining things to them that seem really obvious, such as "This is why we don't throw a rubber band ball at the window" and "Are you serious, scraping a FORK into the TABLE??" But what I HAVE noticed is that I teach MYSELF things as a RESULT of having children---and perhaps that's what people mean to say but their children haven't yet finished teaching them how to articulate their thoughts clearly.

The child doesn't come along, hitch up her diaper, spit out her pacifier, and say, "When a human failing is consistent rather than periodic, that failing can no longer be blamed on external circumstances but must instead be blamed (if blame is to be apportioned) on the human herself---either on her unchangeable nature or by her failure to make the necessary changes to her actions that would lead to a change in results." Instead, it's that as I teach the child this concept ("If the clock is wrong, that excuses you the first time when you didn't know it was wrong---but after that, you KNOW the clock is wrong so it's back to being your fault you're not out of the bathroom on time"), I learn it better myself ("Hm. If I am ALWAYS rushing/frantic/stressed to get to kindergarten drop-off, maybe I should start getting ready 5 minutes earlier instead of blaming the child and/or the circumstances for always making us late").

This kind of learning (I teach it to them, and that's when I learn it better too) reminds me of some rule of education I remember hearing somewhere along the line, which is that to fully learn to do something, you should watch one, then do one, then teach one to someone else. I think it was a medical thing, maybe? Like, first you watch someone give a shot, then you give the shot, then you teach someone else to give a shot---and THEN you can say you know how to give a shot. It seems like it would take more than that to say you knew how to do, say, neurosurgery, but I get the gist: you kind of know it when you've been told it; you know it better when you put it into practice yourself; you know it the best after you explain/show/teach it to someone else.

It's like a very irritating thing Paul used to say (I've made him stop) (I hope), which is that if you can't successfully explain it to a 5-year-old, you don't really know it. I can think of multiple reasons why that is crap as a hard-line philosophy (but I can't explain it to Henry so that he fully understands concepts well beyond his developmental level, SO I GUESS I KNOW NOTHING)---but the IDEA is that in order to simplify something down to its bare bones so that even a little kid could understand it, you have to know all those bones really well.

Artists study skeletal and muscular structure even when they're not going to be drawing bones and muscles, because they know you draw the skin better if you know what's underneath it. Again, many an artist over the centuries HAS been able to draw excellent pictures of people WITHOUT first knowing all the bones, just as you can know you want go to the less-expensive grocery store without first minoring in economics. But knowing the bones and the economics means knowing more THOROUGHLY what you're doing and why. The children don't teach us in the first sense of the word (by being the ones to tell us how things are) (or at least, as mentioned previously, MY children don't), but we learn it better when we teach them. (That doesn't look as pretty in metallic script, though.)

27 comments:

Amanda said...

Yup.

Ashley said...

But, wait a minute. How DO you get silly putty out of upholstery? These are things I need to know!

Auntie G said...

SRSLY -- my four-year old ruined my favorite pillow cover with bright red silly putty!

But also, this post made me LOL, repeatedly and literally.

MomQueenBee said...

Yes.

Clarabella said...

My son is 5, and while I TOTALLY get what you're saying about explaining things to him (knowing the bones really well), there are certainly exceptions. More and more frequently, as he is exposed to more things that are outside his realm or understanding, I find myself saying..."I'll explain it when you're a bit older." All this to say that some things don't NEED to be explained to a 5YO. Dude is usually more than willing to accept this if I explain that he just won't understand it right now.

Shari said...

Stupider than standard issue? HAHAHA. I think my kids have taken away all my brain function. But yes, they HAVE taught me that two kids is all I can handle, so...there is that. :)

Lawyerish said...

This post is perfect in every way. The first paragraph made me die laughing, and then the part about the baby hitching up her diaper and spouting forth philosophical wisdom? Gold.

Gina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gina said...

I clearly know nothing, because he only thing I was ever able to explain to a 5 year old is "Cake is good." Well, I know cake is good.

Jen said...

My husband is constantly laughing at me for explaining things like air molecules to my 4.5 yo when asked something like "why does the balloon deflate when you take it from inside to outside and it's cold outside." So while I do agree with Paul (as I clearly *try* to explain complicated things), I would say you have to first know how to explain things simply, which I clearly do not. See also: germs and blood.

VHMPrincess said...

and where is the silly putty answer? I have some that needs removing!!!!

Kris said...

Well. . . I know WD-40 works to get melted Crayons out of car upholstery, thanks to a certainly young man.

Kris said...

*certain. A CERTAIN young man. SIGH

Erica said...

"...but their children haven't yet finished teaching them how to articulate their thoughts clearly." Hahahahahaha.

I realized the other day that Anna thinks the singular of "clothes" is "clo." So I'm not even explaining the English language very thoroughly.

Swistle said...

So far my own children have taught me only that if I want to get Silly Putty out of upholstery, I have to use scissors and then an artfully-draped throw blanket and then never buying Silly Putty again. I'll let you know if they ever think I'm ready for Lesson 2.

Susie said...

"See one, do one, teach one" is basically how I role, professionally. That's my only guiding philosophy when I teach students, and it's how I learn things best myself. I will try to remember that my kids will be dumb until they get to teach their own kids. (And, I suppose, that I remain dumb about most things, until I teach my kids. Wait.)

Rah said...

Oh, Swistle, I think this is going to become one of your classics. It is, as someone else commented, gold.

And here I was thinking maybe I'm just a stupider than standard issue parent...

heidi davis said...

I love you. That is all.

liz said...

Yes. Everything you said in the post. YES.

Nicole said...

At this moment, I am staring at a stain on the carpet due to green silly putty, so I know of what you speak.

Also, I have saved this post alongside your "Middle School Dress Code" and the one about breaking a laundry basket over 1/3 vs. .3333, to read when I need cheering.

Becky said...

This is so good I came back to read it again.

Sarah said...

I loved this post a great deal. And I have wondered many times if I possibly got children slightly... dimmer, let's say, than the standard issue children. So many obvious concepts, explained So. Many. Times. But I guess you're right, now I know understand those concepts very thoroughly!
I sure as heck can explain, for instance, to anyone still unclear on the concept, why we have to wash our hands IMMEDIATELY after using the bathroom, and without first groping every single item and/or person in hands' reach as we make our way to the sink.

H said...

I love this!

Anonymous said...

You are my modern day Erma Bombeck. Bravo!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Since inquiring minds want to know: I just had my carpets professionally cleaned, and they got the silly putty out by running an iron over the spot to somewhat liquify the putty, and then rubbing it off the fibers with their fingers. Viola. (It does help that my carpets are mud-colored.)

The Amazing Trips said...

You nailed it, Swistle. Scraping a fork in to the table? That JUST happened at our house, tonight. I believe it was the third time this month.

CARRIE said...

When I was a kid, and even in college, I didn't fully understand articles, conjunctions, adverbs, prepositions, etc. I knew how to use them, but if someone said to name one or the other or describe their use in a sentence, I would have said "Duh?"

Fast forward to becoming a teacher and having to teach kids what these things are and give examples and repeat it OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Well, now I know.

I loved this post and snorted my way through most of it.