All things being equal, I suppose I would rather have a child who is able to look up words in the dictionary on his own than a child who wakes me up in the middle of the night asking me how to spell giraffe. On the other hand, I would rather spit out G-I-R-A-F-F-E after midnight several times than have a kid who feels he can't count on me to help him out. Some kids are able to look up words in the dictionary on their own when they're just piddles and some kids aren't able to look up how to spell words in the dictionary on their own until they are old enough to shave. But here's what never happens: it is never the case that a kid KNOWS how to look up words in the dictionary on his own but instead wakes you up in the middle of the night to ask you.

If your kid is waking you up in the middle of the night to ask you how to spell giraffe, what he really wants is something else. Maybe some cuddling and reassurance. Maybe a reminder that your love doesn't punch out at inconvenient hours.

Teachers gripe about "how many time do I have to tell you to make sure the coefficient of the quadratic term is equal to one before you take half the coefficient of the linear term, square it, and add it to both sides." But if all the students already knew how to do that completing the square business, their teachers would be out of a job. I guess some instructors get a euphoric feeling from knowing how to do all the algebra one problems even though their students barely know how to do any of them. In the same way that I might feel good about having a boat if you didn't. (If I had a boat.) But the best teachers know that they will inspire their students with gentleness and a value neutral attitude. Figuring out how to divide every term of the trinomial by the coefficient of the quadratic term is hard enough when not preceded by the words, "WE WENT OVER THAT YESTERDAY WEREN'T YOU LISTENING YOU SNOTY FACED HEAP OF PARROT DROPPINGS?" Kids who feel respected are more likely to factor trinomials than kids who feel maligned or threatened.

Speaking of good teachers, isn't the number one spot on the list of parenting responsibilities that of teaching?  You can't write an accurate job description of "parent" without using the word "teacher" repeatedly. Ultimately you want your kids to be independent. See? It says so right here in these books on developmental psychology on my shelf that, if my leg didn't hurt so much, I would get up to look at. Sure enough, these books would corroborate that independence and individuation are what's happening for kids as they sail through their ages and stages. Kids WANT to spread their wings and fly. As soon as they know that they have a solid foundation from which to launch.

So what am I saying? Be HAPPY when, at two o'clock in the morning, your eight year old nudges you and says, "Are you awake? Because I was just wondering how to spell giraffe and I can't find it in the dictionary anywhere"? No, you don't have to be particularly enthusiastic and joyful. But you could understand that your kid has not yet perfected a necessary developmental skill, that of self soothing and getting back to sleep. It happens. Completing the square, falling back asleep. We'll get there.

Rather than yelling at your kid to go back to sleep or giving him a rifle and insisting that he go invade France, why not just give him a cuddle and some reassurance? As counterintuitive as it may sound, a child who knows that he CAN ask you how to spell giraffe at two in the morning is more likely to be able to self soothe and get back to sleep than a kid who is scared to ask for your advice, guidance, reassurance, and help with the dictionary.

Because in a New York Minute the time is coming when you would give up a kidney for a child who values your advice and guidance. Eight year olds have a habit of turning into 16 year olds before you can say, "Now where did I put those books on child development?" And a relationship in which your kid knows he can count on you is going to be worth a suitcase full of somoleans: "should I get in that car with those kids?" for example. You have to hope that your son thinks, "I can ask my dad his opinion" and "I'm connected to what my dad would say" rather than "My dad would rather sleep." You want a kid who has internalized, "My dad cares about my wellbeing" rather than a child who thinks, "I'm on my own."

And if helping your kid to make the correct decision to stay out of that soon to be speeding, swerving car isn't worth muttering, "G-I-R-A-F-F-E" a few times at 2:00 a.m. then all those books on the shelf across the room aren't worth anything.

4 thoughts on “G-I-R-A-F-F-E

  1. nancy orovitz

    I love the commonsense advice in your letters-tho I am a grandmother many times over it soothes me to know that my child-rearing philosophy is still pertinent.

  2. Martin

    OK. G-i-r-a-f-f-e I could do (could have done) at 2am.
    x**2 +10x = -1 …. don’t think I could do that so swiftly, even
    after a nice cup of cafe filtre and pain compagne toast at 10am.
    Thanks for the algebra review, though.
    Took a while… It’s -4.9, right?
    Now how did you know to add 25 to both sides and not, say 49? or 9?
    I could probably do the Capital of Delaware at 2am, though, if that would help.

    1. David Post author

      Don’t forget the negative root, though.

      x = -5 +/- square root of 24. (Or 2 * square root of six, if you prefer.)

      I get x = -.101 or -9.899 to three decimal places.

      The quadratic formula will corroborate our answers.

      Much love,

  3. Charlotte Leatherman

    Not sure how to navigate this because I did a minute ago and then wiped it out!!!
    You are spectacular! Hope you and your family are up to some new things and are well.
    Edward and I are doing just fine, my only problem is arthritis. He’s 25 yoa now. LOL!

    Thank you for writing these compositions, because some parents haven’t figured this out yet ,including me.

    Take care of yourself, Charlotte


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