... my father, who taught me to be a gentleman, taught me to make candles and pancakes, taught me to love literature and music ...
The quote above, from Rich's post about his dad, really got me thinking. Did his dad actively teach him to be a gentleman? Or was Rich just an astute observer of his father's behaviour? If the former, how did that work? What lessons were imparted, and in what kind of an order, to ensure that the young Rich grew into a respectful, honest man?
Without a doubt his father succeeded: Rich is one of the nicest, most sincere and sophisticated men I know. I am honored to call him a friend, and I admire his dedication to his own family. Rich's dad must be very proud.
This line of inquiry led me to ponder the lessons I'm giving -- intentionally and otherwise -- to my children. Certainly I try to provide a positive role model. I'm honest with them, and try to demonstrate how to be honest and forthright toward others. I try to encourage them to be patient and gracious, which is no easy task for hormonal teenagers. I try to listen to them, and to withhold judgement, and to make it clear that I'm here to help and support them in whatever ways they need.
I want them to grow up to be capable, self-sufficient adults. I try to challenge them, and push them to push themselves. I've made it clear that I have high expectations of them, but I'm confident that these expectations are not unattainable.
I have no formal plan for teaching respect and dignity to the kids, though. Did Rich's dad have a formal plan, or was it just his nature to nurture these traits in his children?
And all of this has me thinking also about my own father. He certainly set a positive example for me, but I don't know that I ever really paid it much attention before now. Did he have a plan for my upbringing? Or did he simply wing it, as I've mostly been doing?
I want the kids to enjoy their youth. I don't want to burden them with social obligations or put them through some kind of arbitrary finishing school. I want them to explore, and make mistakes, and learn and grow and evolve. I want to establish a safe framework for all of these things, and to provide a gentle guiding hand along the way.
I wonder how Rich's dad did all of this ...
While rocking my daughter to sleep last night, I gazed upon her little face and watched her eyes flutter closed as her breathing slowed. I wanted nothing in the world to disturb her sleep. I wanted to take onto myself all the discomfort she's experiencing from the teeth poking through her gums, that she might sleep peacefully through the night.
I pondered the future, knowing that at some point I'd have to release my beautiful little angel into the harsh, uncaring world around us. I won't be able to protect her from all that will harm her. I can only do my best to equip her with the skills and self-confidence necessary to face each challenge with dignity and courage.
I know that my concerns for her are deeply "first world problems": she's well fed, sheltered, fiercely loved and wanted. She'll hopefully never experience true hunger, or worry about where she'll find warmth in the heart of winter.
I began to wonder what other parents around the world and through history felt when they held their kids. Certainly they shared my desire to give the world to their progeny, and to see them grow up healthy and happy. But what would that be like for a near-destitute farmer in Mexico, living in the shadow of a drug cartel? What concerns must an Afghan parent feel when they hold their child at night, ostensibly in the middle of a war zone?
What about someone like a king or queen, hundreds of years ago? Did they worry about their little baby being assassinated for political purposes before they could blossom into a wonderful young adult? Did the weight of authority weigh on their shoulders, worrying that their kid might not live up to the demands of the office they were to inherit?
And royalty aside, what would a peasant feel while holding their infant late at night, soothing them to sleep?
366 days ago I was at the OSU maternity ward experiencing the birth of my daughter. It had been two decades since I had previously been in a maternity ward, and then I wasn't in the actual delivery room but rather waiting outside. In retrospect, I think I would have benefited greatly from witnessing the birth of my son.
The birth of Josephine was an extraordinary experience, and while I can't say that I remember it as though it were yesterday, I do have clear memories of specific moments, and I feel touches of the overriding feelings of joy and the sense of promise that then overwhelmed me when I look at my daughter today.
The rate of change at which a baby develops is truly remarkable, as is the corresponding rate of change I've noticed within myself. I've been a step-parent twice now, and while I think I'd done a fair job both times, I knew there was something fundamental that I was lacking. Prior to Josie's birth, I had a hard time truly articulating what that was.
A baby changes its parents in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. The helpless little newborn requires almost constant attention -- attention I was only too happy to provide! -- and relies entirely on the adults in its life for safety and sustenance. It does little good to become exasperated or short-tempered at the baby's neediness, though to be honest I did become both at times. I honestly don't know how any single parents manage. The little milestones -- lifting the neck, rolling over, sitting up, smiling -- are huge rewards for that attention, though, and slowly the commitment of attention transitions from unending requirement to a natural state of care.
As the baby becomes mobile, a whole new level of attentiveness is required, one that is much more active. Reaction times suddenly become important. Despite our efforts to baby-proof the house, Josephine still manages to find an awful lot of stuff that we'd rather she not touch. Again, getting exasperated or short-tempered does no good.
The first time I was a step-parent I got exasperated and short-tempered a lot. This was my greatest failing to my then-step-kids, I think, because I had unrealistic expectations about them, born from not going through the slow, natural transition from "not parent" into "parent" with all the challenges and rewards that brings. Instead, I went from "not parent" to "parent" almost overnight, without establishing the depth of relationship between parent and child that comes from raising a newborn. Long before I was a step-parent, my step-kids were well developed human beings, with strong personalities that I did not intuitively know as well as their biological mother did. Likewise, I had not had the transition from state of "committed attention" to "natural care" as I've begun to experience with Josephine. This was a cause of much friction between all of us, and I realize now, with great shame, how much of that friction was caused by me.
I'm grateful, though, for the experiences I've had being a step-parent. It's given me a glimpse of some of the things to expect with Josephine, and while I know she'll be sufficiently her own person that I won't get any "do overs", I'll at least be conceptually prepared for some of her challenges in youth and adolescence. Similarly, being a step-parent to older children has helped me be better aware of, and embrace, the slow changes taking place within me as I grow into the role of "dad", as opposed to "biological father" or "step-dad".
I can only imagine what the next year has in store, and the years beyond. I am very much looking forward to it.
I helped Tayler work on her science homework tonight. It was a very eye-opening experience.
The assignment was to read about the rotation of the earth around the sun and to answer a few simple questions. I took it upon myself to try to encourage additional problem-solving skills and asked Tayler to answer a few questions of my own.
"Tayler, if the earth rotates around its axis once every day, and if the moon rotates around the earth once every month, how many times does the earth rotate around the sun every year?" She tried valiantly to make up a number of answers that she thought might fool me. I stuck with it, though, confident that should could figure out the answer based on the information provided to her in the question. I eventually had to explain this last bit to her, and finally after repeating the question several times I saw the light bulb go off in her head. "One!" she exclaimed proudly.
The next portion of her assignment was to describe the solstice and equinox. Both terms were mentioned in the book, but only the equinox was explained as a function of the earth's angle toward the sun. I again challenged her to think beyond the assignment by asking her to explain to me the solstice in relation to the equinox. "Using only the information you know about the equinox, what can you tell me about the solstice?" This was too opaque a question for her to deduce, so I had to rephrase it several times. "If the equinox is caused by the earth having very little angle to the sun, what can you tell me about the cause of the solstice?" We were interrupted by a bout of infectious giggles, which helped a lot to keep Tayler from getting overly frustrated. Eventually, after a lot of repetition, Tayler was finally able to explain that the solstice was when the earth had the most angle to the sun.
I explained to Tayler that I was challenging her on purpose, to help her develop her critical thinking skills. It's important to me that the kids learn how to approach problems with a thoughtful eye, and to evaluate the information available to them as they formulate their answers. It's surprising how much of this I do on my own without thinking about it; and it's extremely challenging to explain it to the kids in a way that makes sense to them.
I need to devise some more kid-friendly scientific processes to help encourage critical thinking in fun, low-stress environments.