I've written here and here about my amazingly successful autodidact of a grandmother. She is the reason that, when I want to learn something new, I don't sign up for a class or ask someone for advice and hands-on help. Instead, I head for the library (or, increasingly these days, look online). I'm not saying that this is the best way to acquire a new skill; it's just my instinct.
It bothers me, not knowing things. It drives me crazy that I haven't been able to identify my favorite stand of trees in the median of the Palisades Parkway near Exit 5. Are the trees less beautiful--or, for that matter, less themselves--because I don't know their human-assigned designation?
And don't even get me started on the stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere, and how few constellations I can actually recognize. Somehow, if I could name them, they'd be more mine; I have a stronger connection with both things and people when I know more about them. I'm not saying that this is rational; it's just how I feel.
When Anne was struggling with sleep issues in January, I would rock her during the wee hours, all the while vowing to myself, "I've got to re-read Ferber." Morning came, and I never had the time; Anne eventually got back in her good sleeping pattern without my reviewing a book I once found crucial to maintaining sanity.
However, that midnight rumination caused me to realize that when I am faced with a crisis, I believe that the solution is more information, or better information, or a review of information that is no longer fresh in my mind. I'm not saying that this is true; it's just what I believe.
I often reinforce this with my children. Whether they are wondering how to spell 'Mississippi,' how to find the area of a circle, who Thomas Aquinas was, or how covalence works, I encourage them to look things up for themselves. I'm not saying I never give them the answer straight out; it's just that I believe this habit helps them become more self-reliant.
Hope turns ten in two weeks; I have come to terms with the fact that it's time for the "Our Changing Bodies" talk.* The way we discussed things with the boys doesn't feel quite right for Hope, for some reason, and I've been casting about for a new approach. Sure enough, Amazon seemed to have what I needed, and I'm once more armed with knowledge.
I remember vividly a book called Where Did I Come From? My dad gave it to me when I was Hope's age and left me to read it alone while babysitting. I was thrilled, thinking it would answer all my many questions about the pre-existence.
How very shocked I was to find out otherwise. I had many bird-and-bee-related questions, but was too shy to ask them; instead, I did further research the next time I went to the library. Sadly, the messy-sounding facts I'd read in that first book seemed to be corroborated, and weren't some horrible, sick joke.
Because that shock still resounds within me, I'm consciously going against my impulse simply to hand Hope a book and send her off to the window seat. I'm not saying that I'll do a better job explaining things than the experts I've recently consulted via printed page; it's just that in this case, I'm willing to brave blushes and eye rolls to make sure my girl gets good information presented appropriately and has all of her questions answered to her (and my) satisfaction.
* Of course we have basic conversations with all of the kids when they're much younger; but now it's time for the type of crucial details pre-adolescents need to know.