#2 has become notorious for asking difficult questions. She is observant, analytical, curious, insightful, and extremely thoughtful. As she continues to hone her reading skills, she has discovered new worlds and her zest for learning has expanded exponentially.
Whenever she reads to me, she often pauses to absorb the information she has just read. For example, yesterday she was reading a book about sharks and I was listening to her. She stopped after she read a section on “cartilage.” She paused and I knew what she was going to ask. “Mom, what’s cartilage?” Being sleep-deprived is never a good quality to have during these question-and-answer periods. The only frame of reference I had with respect to the subject on cartilage was getting my ears pierced. When I was a teenager, I wanted to get that top portion of my ear pierced and was afraid of the ensuing pain. I was reassured that it was only “cartilage” by some friends, therefore the pain would be minimal. I realized the source of my fear wasn’t the pain I was going to receive from the act of piercing but from my mother on discovering the piercing so I never went through with it. I showed #2 the example of cartilage by tugging on her ear and she noted that it wasn’t as hard as bone and she was satisfied. As usual, I braced myself for tougher questions. She started to read about the importance of fins and the tail of a shark. Apparently, they are integral to the shark keeping balanced and for steering. She paused again. “What happens when they sleep? Do they drown? And how do they breathe?” The only answer I had at this point: “They breathe through those slits on the side of their head.” She replied, “I know that Mom, but how???” I thought to myself: “Here we go.” I told her that we would research the answers to her questions but she was already reading the next page and preparing more questions. “Sharks eat sea lions. What are those?” I said, “They’re like seals.” I think?? She fires back, “What’s the difference?” I shrug my shoulders and add it to our list of research.
All this in only the first 15 minutes she had been home from school.
#2 has a passion for the solar system, celestial bodies, and space in general. She has a large astronomy book filled with big words that she loves to peruse. She loves the pictures but now has started to try to read it. I don’t discourage the kids by saying a book is too hard nor do I praise them. I just leave them be. I remember how thrilled she was when she read her first big word in that book. She yelled, “Asteroid! Its says asteroid!!!” When she first started to learn about the Earth and the universe, she could not stop thinking about it. She would ask us to go on websites, take out books from the library, and even just stay on our porch and observe the shape of the moon (“It’s a half moon tonight, Mom.”) One day, in the bath with her sisters, she was quiet and I could almost hear the wheels turning in her head. I asked, “What are you thinking about?” She said, “Stars.” Then she followed up with a couple of whoppers, “What are stars made of? What is the universe made of? What are we made of? Are we made of the same things as stars?” Amazing. I marveled how she made these connections in her mind. All I could do was nod my head and defer the discussion because her sisters’ fingers were shriveled up like raisins already. And of course she asked, “Why do they shrivel up?”
I came across this poster that reminded me of our conversation which I want to buy for her birthday:
Poster from My Little Underground
Yesterday evening, after Ever-Patient left for volleyball with #1, I cuddled on the couch with the 4. #3, #4, and #5 all fell asleep and I asked #2 if she wanted to watch a bit of TV with me before bed. She snuggled up next to me and we ended up flipping to Oprah who was interviewing Colin Firth and Tom Ford about their new movie, “A Single Man.” I watched #2 watching. Her forehead wrinkled as she tried to understand the subject matter. She heard a phrase that espoused the significance of the “present moment.” She asked, “What’s ‘the present moment’?” I answered, “Right now. This very instant we’re talking and your siblings are asleep. Yesterday or even 5 minutes ago is called the past and tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now is the future. Can we change what happened in the past?” She paused and said, “No.” And I asked her, “Can we guess what’s going to happen tomorrow?” She paused and said “No.” And I told her a saying that a friend had told me, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow’s a mystery. Today’s a gift and that’s why they call it the Present.” She still looked unsure but whenever she encounters new ideas, she talks it out to try and grasp the concept. She began, “So…when you get a gift, you don’t know what is inside…is that like the Present? Because you don’t know what can happen the next moment? So each moment is like a gift waiting to be opened? Just like how we’re talking and I’m learning something new?”
I started to well up and feel a lump in my throat. It had only taken me almost 30 years to figure out this secret to happiness that my 6.5 year old had deduced in a matter of minutes. I reaffirmed her discovery and we sit in quiet. I watch her and am grateful of the lessons her and her siblings teach me every day. Children are more intuitive and more than capable of handling philosophical conversations than we give them credit for. The key is not to dismiss or ignore a potential discussion that if encouraged, could lead them (and you) to gaining an insight into the truth about things and about human nature.
I hope to put the following Walt Whitman poem up in our house:
This is what you shall do:
love the earth and sun, and animals,
despise riches, give alms to every one that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence towards the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men;
go freely with the powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and mothers,
of families: read these leaves in the open air every season
of every year of your life:
re-examine all you have been told at school or church,
or in any books, and
dismiss whatever insults your soul.
Thank you for our question-and-answer periods. I envy your tenacity and thoughtfulness. You truly are more of a teacher than I am. I hope your questions never stop.)