Lessons on love from a 2nd-grader

May 30, 2002|By Rebecca Faye Smith Galli

THE SECOND-grade classroom buzzed with nervous anticipation. Nineteen children had prepared animal-themed presentations, complete with maps, charts, dioramas and formal reports. Their audience that day: their parents and peers.

Mrs. Adams, the teacher, selected Peter to describe the research process. With his classmates' assistance, he acknowledged the use of books, National Geographic magazines, newspapers, the Internet, and last and heartily emphasized by Mrs. Adams as least, the faithful encyclopedia - used only for reference to review the completeness of their reports.

The children eagerly showed their note cards and rough drafts, talked about editing and rewrites, and, of course, noted their mandatory rehearsals. They were prepared and proud to share with us what they had learned.

From Kendall, we learned that a giraffe's heart weighs 25 pounds and has a blood pressure twice that of a human's to help pump the blood up that long neck. From Peter, we learned that a newborn elephant weighs 250 pounds and a full-grown elephant eats 330 pounds of food a day.

And then Sam taught us about chimpanzees. We learned chimps are social and caring creatures that sometimes greet each other with handshakes and often eat the insects out of each other's fur. Then Sam reported on the care and nurturing of their offspring.

"If a mother chimp isn't loved as a child, she won't love her baby chimp," he said.

The parents collectively winced. An uneasy silence settled upon us as the statement sliced into our autopilot listening mode and headed straight for our hearts as our roles and responsibilities were brought unexpectedly into focus.

Sam hit a universal truth, a parenting nerve that haunts and humbles, energizes and overwhelms. In his simple report, Sam delivered a thought that can flash-freeze the million balls that we juggle in the air and give us pause to ponder: Am I teaching my child to love? Am I giving my child all that he or she will need to give their child?

"You can't give what you don't have," I've heard it said. I once argued that you certainly can. You can give tickets to a concert, even though you've never been. You can give trips abroad, even though you've never boarded a plane. You can give a college education, even though you've never finished high school.

Yet there are more important gifts that make us question what we have to give. Can we give our child a love of learning if we do not stretch ourselves with new information and experiences? Can we give our child a sense of worth if we do not value our own thoughts and ideas, time and talents? Can we give our child respect for values if we show no ethics or integrity in our personal and business lives?

If we dare, we can use that thought as a mirror and lift it high above our heads to see what we are giving our children. With a careful look, we can see not only what we are doing, but also what we are teaching.

At its best, we may see the efforts of principled parenting with consistent messages, regardless of context. At its worst, we may view a reflection that startles us, wondering if perhaps all we gave our child at that moment was something to tell their shrink about in 20 years.

And we shudder as we think about the parenting process, wishing for rewrites and edits, rough drafts and rehearsals. And we long for a faithful encyclopedia to reference as we review the completeness of our parenting reports.

Yet we press on, perhaps unedited, but fueled by a relentless passion to write clearly and confidently the love-themed lessons that we value most and have in our lives to give.

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli is a free-lance writer and columnist who lives in Phoenix, Md.

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