When I was pregnant, I day dreamed of all the things I was going to teach my child. These were hazy day dreams filled with non specifics, but moments of wistful promise punctuated by kicking feet against my ribs that made me giddy with anticipation of all that I could be as a mother.
I soon realized that, in the beginning, there is very little mother-to-child teaching going on and much more child-to-mother rearing. I was the one, in those early days, taking part in sleep training soon waking after four hours in anticipation of nightly feedings. My little one taught me his cries for hunger, stimulation, overstimulation, a new diaper, snuggles. I soon learned to accomplish most physical tasks, like making dinner or sorting laundry or typing an email, with one hand. On top of it all, my little one taught me to love in a way that I never anticipated. He showed me pure joy. And eventually, he taught me to trust myself, my mother self.
That first year, I watched as he discovered and perfected rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, talking. There was very little I actually taught him. How can you teach a baby to roll over? They simply take their time practicing it until one day there they are, on their bellies so excited that they commanded their bodies to do something. Then of course, they realize they are in fact on their bellies and can’t quite command themselves to turn back over and so the learning process begins anew.
Even as a preschooler, my little guy would dictate the pace of learning by one day being obsessed with letters or trucks or planets. I watched as his sponge brain soaked up all the information it could handle turning him into the inquisitive, hilarious, bright little boy that he is. But I never felt comfortable taking credit for any of it. I simply answered some questions along the way, provided a few factoids, maybe a helpful analogy.
Until recently. My five year old has learned to tie his shoes. I, his mother, little ole me, taught him that. I showed him how to make the “x” and curve the bow and push it through. I patiently encouraged him to practice and talked him through his frustration at not mastering the skill the first time he tried. And now he can tie his shoes. All by himself. Sure, they’re too loose and they come undone easily, but he bends down to retie them now himself instead of shoving a foot under my nose to fix.
I did that. I taught him something. Something tangible. Something that he’ll take with him forever.
I hope that I’m also teaching him the less tangibles – compassion, love, empathy.
But for now, I taught him to tie his shoes. And I feel pretty good about that.