I started the blog this week with the following thought: Two year old Eva (Sanders) has come up with some wonderful sayings on her quest to learn the English language. When I typed the word learn I stopped. How does a child learn English or any language? We typically think about learning as a conscious activity; we go somewhere to learn. I will state the obvious but the obvious is sometimes covered over by where we have “learned.” We are not schooled in life or in the acquisition of our “native tongue.” Most of our learning, especially what is of vital importance, we learn by osmosis. In that sense, we are all homeschooled. In order to drive the point home I would suggest the following revision: “Everything I needed to know I learned well before kindergarten.”
Looking at it from this perspective, perhaps higher education is not so much the content of what we learn (from kindergarten on) but what we unlearn from both home and school. Learning and unlearning go hand in hand in the process of our growth. It takes openness to learn and courage to unlearn.
Today is the anniversary of the day my father died. My Dad started his life with a difficult beginning. His mother died giving birth to him. He was adopted by an Uncle and Aunt and raised as an only child (though he had two biologic brothers who lived close by and pretended to be his cousins). All this occurred well before kindergarten. Being raised by my adopting grandfather gave my Dad (and subsequently me and my siblings) the surname of Sanders and led to him enrolling in a yeshiva for elementary school which then led him later on to enter the Rabbinate. My Dad was a patient listener and was loved by many of his congregants. I never met my Dad’s (adopting) father as he died two years before I was born—but through stories my father told me about him, my grandfather was a good listener as well. I learned how to listen well before kindergarten. Osmosis is intergenerational.
My father has 31 grandchildren, almost all of them born after he died. Five boys are named after him, including my son Ben (who turned 20 yesterday). If there is one thing I want to convey as a legacy of my father to my children is to learn to listen and that is best taught through listening to them. As parents we often fail to listen despite our best intentions and efforts—usually because we have not unlearned the hurt of our feeling unheard. Those hurts will emerge often at those developmental stages when we felt unheard and we then need to be even more mindful that a child will flourish best when they are seen, heard and listened for.
That is why I delight in sharing Eva’s latest acquisition of English. Every day she uses, always appropriate to the matter at hand, the phrase, “it happens.” It is not a phrase we taught her but somehow through osmosis and her own creativity she has latched on to this phrase. When she says it (such as when things fall down—“it happens”), it has the ring of a philosophy.
My Dad died at age 61. It happens. I know he is listening still.
P.S. Please take advantage and come listen to and learn from Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg (see accompanying schedule of her talks this Sunday through Tuesday) on Mindfulness and Spirituality (including mindful parenting/grandparenting). Her reputation precedes her as a wonderful teacher and listener.