“Where does water come from?”
My six-year-old contemplates his glass of water, then looks at me with serious eyes. I gulp. (No joke intended). This is one of those moments… one of those opportunities for in-the-moment learning. Think, Nicky, think. How can you answer his question properly while keeping his interest?
And then I realise that I have a golden opportunity. The house is quiet as my husband and other son have gone out. The chores are done. There are no distractions. We have time, my six-year-old and I. I can do this. Where normally, the humdrum of dinner routine would derail any attempt at answering such a question, for once, today, the stage is properly set.
“Well,” I begin, feeling my way carefully. “You know how we go to the seaside…?”
And together, bit by bit, we piece together the great water cycle. I resist the temptation to Google the whole thing because that would spoil the moment. We just sit and talk, and my six-year-old engages.
“That’s like a big circle, I think,” he suddenly offers. “Can you draw it?”
Well, heck yes, I can. Okay, my rendering isn’t perfect, and my scrawly handwriting is rather embarrassing (as he duly hastens to point out). But it does the job. We get the ‘circle’ idea firmly embedded in his brain.
And there’s more.
“But mummy,” he says, having contemplated the drawing. “You can’t drink sea water, it’s salty.”
Enter the next level of complexity, and we talk about how the evaporation of sea water by the sun takes out the salt.
“So rain water is drinking water?” he concludes.
“Yes, rain water is drinking water,” I confirm, feeling proud.
At his insistence, we add a well and a reservoir to my rudimentary drawing. We also look at Africa (on a different drawing on a different scrap of paper) and how the rain water clouds never quite reach the inland deserts. The connections are coming thick and fast, and I can practically see the little cogs in his brain turning.
When my husband returns, he gets a quick lecture on water cycles by my six-year-old. Ever since, steam rising from the kettle or the shower has been identified as ‘another piece of evaporation.’ How’s that for passing on learning?
This was a really golden moment for me. Not because I felt proud of recalling my science lessons; in fact, I’m sure I forgot some critical piece of information somewhere along the way, but it’ll do for now.
No, it was a golden moment because he accepted my words, digested them, and applied them.
It was golden because I know, in my heart of hearts, that in a few years’ time, he’ll discover that I’m not always right (far from it!), and that in fact, his mummy-fount-of-wisdom has clay feet.
Add on another few years, and he’ll know things far beyond my horizon of learning. He’ll acquire that sublime arrogance of teenage youth where he’ll be confident he owns the world and rules everybody in it. Sitting down with his mummy to talk about stuff will be the totally uncoolest thing imaginable.
And that’s why I treasured this moment and stored it in my happy-bank. And that’s also why I shared it with you. I hope that’s okay.
All too often, I don’t realise that I had a golden moment until after the fact, when I think back to it a few days later. But this one I grasped by the horns and squeezed every last little bit of enjoyment out of it right there and then.