Learning From Our Children

I was complaining to a friend of mine about how difficult I found my nine year old at times. "He's so slow." I've been quick and efficient for as long as I can remember--rarely wasting a minute, always getting something done--and I've come to place a high value on it. "I'm quick," I said. "You know, I like being quick." "I know," she replied. "And he's slow. I'm slow too. You might try thanking him for his slowness," she added.

Thank someone for being slow? It was about the strangest idea I had ever heard. But I trusted this friend and listened on. What could be good about slow? "Someone has to be slow in your house," she said. I thought about our family. I may be the quickest, the most efficient. But my husband is incredibly productive, often juggling three or four activities at the same time, and our life often feels like a whirlwind. Maybe it wasn't totally irrational for my son to want to slow things down.

I tucked this idea away in the back of my mind. I noticed it again when he and I had a chance to spend some special time together. Now, I've always felt that I was pretty flexible about how we used such time. I don't have a lot of agendas about what we do. I just want to use it well. What I can't stand is when he refuses to say what he wants to do, when he fritters the time away, when nothing much happens. This time I heard my friend's voice in my mind. "Maybe he doesn't want to do anything. Maybe he just wants to be with you." Maybe this was another way of slowing me down, of making me notice the moment just for what it was, and not for what it produced.

I decided not to use the word "do" with him at all during that time. It was quite a challenge--I had to bite it off a dozen times. I didn't ask what he wanted to do. I didn't suggest any activities. I tried instead just to be there with him and to notice that we were together and that that was enough. It wasn't easy, but it made me realize how often I rush into an activity with someone without ever quite noticing that they're there.

The learning goes on and on. I had the chance recently to listen to him do a challenging mental addition problem out loud. "Well now, let me see," he said, with slow, pleasurable deliberation. "Let me see. Hmmm. If I add the ones together I'll get this number. Yes. Okay. Then if I add the tens together, hmmm, I'll get this. Now..." He continued on with the same very relaxed, unhurried, confident pleasure, and arrived at the end with the right answer and a comfortable sense of accomplishment. He talked with me about it afterwards, with seemingly equal pride in both traits, his slowness and his accuracy.

It made a memorable picture. Never before would I have considered this attitude toward addition. When you have a prospect as pleasurable as adding two and three digit numbers together, you want to stretch it out as long as you can, to get the maximum pleasure out of it--like stretching out the pleasure of an after-dinner mint.

Now, I may never be as slow as my son. And I may still have the overwhelming urge to speed him up at times. but I will never forget how useful his slowness has been to me. And I hope I will always remember to slow down and notice what else I can learn from my children.