Love of Learning

I had come to pick my son up at a friend's house. They had been berry-picking and the fruits of their labor were going into a shortcake. The other children had lost interest in the process and gone off to play, but my son was still in the kitchen. For some reason I saw him clearly at that moment. He was standing beside my friend as she stirred--watching with total absorption. His face was alight with the fullness of the moment. Clearly there was nowhere he'd rather be, nothing he'd rather be doing. This was love of learning in the purest form I've ever seen.

We all know that love of learning is a Good Thing. We want it for our children, and may suspect that to experience it in school is the exception rather than the rule. We probably encourage it unconsciously at home when we model our own love of learning (and probably discourage it unconsciously at other times). The question that was framed for me, in this picture of my son, was what to do when they love something that I don't.

It's no secret to my family and friends that I don't like to cook. I'm competent and efficient, but it's just work. My husband pointed out to me years ago that our son was interested in cooking. I couldn't imagine why, and it still remains hard to believe. On the rare occasions that I've remembered to invite him to work with me on dinner, his response has been lukewarm, and I've been just as glad to do it myself. My husband, who genuinely enjoys cooking, has had some good companionable times with him in the kitchen, but he's usually in a rush. Trying to be good parents, we've let him experiment with original baking recipes, trying to teach him what combinations will make the results palatable. But I've know that, somehow, none of this had really done him justice.

Watching him on this afternoon, however, it all began to fall into place for me. I'd had the part about learning, but not the part about love. Of course he doesn't choose to be in the kitchen with me. Who would want to learn drudgery? All of a sudden I saw why the cooking shows on public TV attract him. These are people who love to cook. The solution isn't to try to instruct him better, or even to find someone else to instruct him. The thing to do is to get him around people who love to cook.

This might mean paying someone, but it might not. I talked with my friend about having him over to cook with her more often (at eight, he can be a real help now), and she was delighted. Who wouldn't want to share their valued store of knowledge with someone who is eager to learn it?

The lesson for me is that, as our children try to learn the things that are important to them, they are looking for more than facts, more than instruction. They are looking for a context in which the love, the excitement, the curiosity that they feel can be taken in and reflected back to them. They are looking for people who love what they want to learn, and love them for wanting it.

As I think about love of learning this way, I am challenged--both to match my children up more thoughtfully with the older people around them, and to be more open about what I love.