My friend’s son knows how to tell time. And he knows all the names of the dinosaurs at the Discovery Science Center. He knows his alphabet both by sound and sight. And I think he can count up to a hundred. He is three.
The girls in Lee’s preschool know how to match Ff to the picture of the fish and Hh to the picture of the hippo. Who knows, maybe they also know how to match the Kk to the picture of the knife. They write their names so neatly and color within the lines.
And I start to scramble for important things to teach my children at home since I’ve taken Lee out of preschool. I take an afternoon to teach Lee how to enter my iphone’s emergency mode and call 911. We do a practice call to the police department and I realize Lee doesn’t know his address. We review that for a day by walking up and down the block pointing at the address numbers painted on the curb.
I print out the food pyramid one afternoon when Lee refuses to eat his meat. We name the trees and plants when we take walks. He notices the mention of Mrs. Woodhouse and Emma on my Jane Austin’s Emma audio CD that I listen to in the car, and he says, “That’s the same as baby Emma.” I feel my heart swell as I think, “Aha! My son is so intelligent.”
It goes on and on. Here I am stuck halfway between a frenzy that my son is behind and a self-gratifying pride because my son knows things that other children don’t. I suppose he and I will remain in this condition forever: not quite as good as some but better than others.
And I don’t know that we gain anything by placing ourselves here again and again. I am great! I’m behind. I’m great! I’m behind. This mindset leads me into an unending attempt at achievement. It is never enough. It always wants more. It is never content at being. It is always searching for others that aren’t quite as good so as to bolster my own feelings of superior parenting.
What is important? What is the most important thing to teach a child?
“Your son will have no shortage of knowledge as an adult,” I told my friend, the father of the three-year-old.
“Yes, but wisdom is another matter,” he replied.
Yes, I thought. But can someone teach their child wisdom? The right thing to do in the right situation?
Certainly, the aim of that goal alters the focus of my teaching. The moments of discipline become far more important than the lessons on world geography. My extra efforts to explain to the children how I expect them to behave at a store or at a friend’s house are not tedious drudgery but the primary goal. My lessons on how to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you to relatives and guests are lessons in graciousness. My turning off the stove and leaving my pot to cool in order to play judge between my children in the other room is the most important lesson they’ll learn that day—unless this is the fourth squabble they’ve had, then it is the fourth most important lesson that day.
If wisdom is my daily aim, I am more at peace with the interruptions and less threatened by other children’s superior intelligence.
And if I am to encourage my children to continually seek after wisdom, I must direct their attention to the source of wisdom who can provide the right action to a million situations in my children’s lives that I shall never experience or understand. I must show them how to join hands with wisdom and confess a higher power than their own. Only then can wisdom be grasped and pride defeated.
That would be the greatest lesson of all to teach my children.