I’ve taught my kids a lot things. I taught them how to tie their shoes, how to use a fork, how to use a toilet, and to say “please” and “thank you.” I taught them how to write a thank you note — and a pretty damn good one at that.
I taught them how to craft a thesis sentence, how to make up riddles in their heads to memorize definitions of obscure vocabulary words or hard-to-remember dates for tests. I taught them how to firmly shake a person’s hand and to look that person in the eye as they do so. I taught them how to say “I love you” and to mean it.
These are all important things to know. But here’s the thing: My kids have taught me so much more than I’ve taught them. It’s not even close.
My son taught me the rules of several professional sports in a way that finally made sense to me. He taught me about downs, and yards gained, and about why a football team would choose to kick a field goal instead of going for the touchdown. He patiently explained to me why basketball players intentionally foul one another. I knew none of this before I had children. But then again, before I had children, I didn’t know how to sit down next to a real, live person and just be there — just co-exist in the same space.
My 14-year-old son has taught me how to sit down, stay still, not say a word — and that the very act of what I used to think was “doing nothing” is actually something. After an hour or so of doing this very nothing on a Sunday afternoon or a Thursday evening while the game is on the TV in front of us, my son will make his way over to my side of the couch, give me a hug, and sometimes even tell me that he loves me. And I know he means it. That feels like something.
My 12-year-old daughter taught me how to make a small dish out of a lump of clay. She sat with me over the pottery wheel as she watched me spin, mold, and cut the clay with frustration — my hands getting dirtier and my bowl getting more misshapen by the minute. Her smaller hands guided my much bigger ones. She taught me that the dish doesn’t have to be perfect — that in all likelihood it won’t be, and that life isn’t perfect, either. I know this deep down — but sometimes (OK, quite often) I need a reminder. She is the one who gives that to me.
I’m pretty sure the most important thing my kids have taught me is that they are not me. My daughter has my blue, almond shaped eyes; the patches of freckles on my son’s cheeks are almost identical to mine. I can’t help but smile whenever someone comments on these physical similarities — that’s my ego kicking in, I suppose. But my daughter is always quick to remind me that these resemblances come from science, from the randomness of genes and how they fall into the Punnett Square, which she learned about in school last year and then explained to me. I knew that, too, but once again I needed the reminder.
My kids do remind me of my husband and me at times. My daughter is super organized like me and almost as chatty. My son has my husband’s dry sense of humor and his laid-back, go with the flow attitude. But more often than not, they remind me of no one. They remind me that they are themselves; they are each their own unique human being. They do not necessarily do things the way I did them when I was their age — nor do they do things the way I want them to do them, or perhaps think I want them to do them.
I can’t say that their ways, their opinions, their thought processes, their character traits are any better or worse than mine. They are simply their own — and that has been pretty amazing to figure out.
I have learned so much from watching them do things in their own ways — like when my daughter chooses not to go to the party that I surely would have gone to when I was her age. Or when my son lets a setback roll off his back in a way I never really could. It’s incredible to see who they are and who they are becoming, warts and all. They impress me. They amaze me. They frustrate me. They challenge me and sometimes they drive me crazy.
But always — in fact, nearly every day — they teach me. And I can’t wait to learn more.
Header Image via John VanDerHaagen on Flickr.