How far is Earth from Mars? How long do butterflies live? Were the stegosaurus and T. rex neighbours? Was china invented in China? The endless interrogation I get from my kids has made me realize I know absolutely nothing. (Actually, that’s not true. I do remember the word cumulus, but unfortunately I can’t tell you what kind of cloud it refers to.)
Obviously, everything is searchable, but I’m often tempted to just make up the answer instead of admitting that I need my phone. What are the chances that my six-year-old will remember the unorthodox way that I suggested bees make honey (and it’s entirely possible that some bees might choose to boil the pollen in their hives, similar to how maple syrup is made, right?).
There was a time when I used to know things—or, at least, I thought I did. I used to do crosswords in pen. I researched and wrote comprehensive papers. I was employed as a lawyer. Today, the Jeopardy theme song fills me with dread, and I worry that I couldn’t help my son find Myanmar on a map. I honestly don’t know if everything is buried somewhere in my brain or if a little bit of knowledge has been seeping out every time I need to make room for a new cartoon theme song. What I do know is that I need to relearn some of the stuff I’ve forgotten—if for no reason than the fact that school has started up again and homework is going to be hard this year.
I have a lovely friend who homeschools her three kids. I can’t even fathom how smart she is, given that she has had to relearn all the stuff three times over. While there is no chance that I’d be capable of homeschooling my three kids (I have neither the discipline nor the patience), I wonder if I could homeschool myself. Since my oldest is entering grade three, should I just start taking correspondence courses at a grade four level? Or maybe I could audit classes at an elementary school across the city. Does such a program exist? It’s like that story in the news last year about the 34-year-old Wisconsin mom who pretended to be a student at her daughter’s high school so she could have a chance to be a cheerleader (but far less salacious—I’d be a mom pretending to be a grade seven student, eager to learn about Confederation and mitosis).
When we go to the museum, I try to read stuff and remember what I’ve read, but I’m usually preoccupied with preventing my kids from knocking over exhibits and dodging security while they sneak-eat string cheese (the cafeteria is always three floors away). It’s hard to truly absorb which dinosaur lived when while chasing three kids around, hoping that the piece of dinosaur fossil my youngest is clutching can be put back into the display without anyone noticing. I’ve also tried listening to educational podcasts (whose mind doesn’t wander when listening to that stuff?), and I think about reading relevant nonfiction books once they’re asleep. But since my kids are never simultaneously asleep for more than 40 minutes between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight, it seems easier to watch The Bachelor between wake-ups, secure in the knowledge that none of the contestants on the show knows what year the American Civil War ended either.
My children’s lack of sleep affects more than just my free time in the evenings; the fact that I’m still up with my youngest child two or three times a night isn’t doing me any intellectual favours. Since I had two terrible sleepers back to back (well-deserved punishment for being such a smug jerk when my firstborn was an excellent sleeper), I haven’t slept more than four hours consecutively in nearly seven years. This has left me with the brainpower of a cruciferous vegetable. (With some sleep, I might be as smart as a small rodent—that is, unless rodents are super-smart. I need to look that up.)
I worry that my kids won’t respect me once they realize how little I know (or that they won’t respect their educations once they realize how easy it to forget everything they’re learning). On the other hand, maybe the act of looking up things and learning with your children is just as meaningful as simply giving them all of the answers. I want my kids to know that learning is a lifelong process. Teaching kids to embrace curiosity and giving them the tools to answer their own questions can be just as powerful as knowing the answers in the first place. And in many cases, the substance of the question will be less relevant than the process of discovery. On that note, I’m going to go look up some information on clouds with my kids. I might have told them that the different types are cumulus, cumulus light and cumulus special dark in a moment of panic—it’s time that I come clean.