When our children were young, we introduced them to the pleasures of our childhoods — from reading Goodnight Moon to riding a two-wheeler. We relished the chance to play with them and expand their horizons, but our horizons were limited to what we knew and could imagine.
What we couldn’t imagine was how much these children, who now range in age from 19 to 29, would teach us. They’ve made us more socially conscious, politically correct, and tech-smart. They’ve been persistent and patient — mostly. When they laugh at us because we still have a landline and pay bills by snail mail, we know it’s because they love us. Our children have taught us well.
Early on, we did the bulk of the teaching. Wash your hands after you use the toilet. Ask before you pet the neighbor’s dog. Remember to say please. Long before middle school, they started training us: Don’t flush the toilet every time you use it; you’re wasting water. Get a dog at a shelter, not a pet store. Never ask a boy if he has a girlfriend. He might be dating a guy. If you have to ask, ask him if he’s seeing anyone.
When our children were toddlers, we picked out their clothes and dressed them. Now our daughters give us fashion advice: They tell us it’s time to give away our “mom jeans” and show us 14 ways to tie a scarf. Their perspective opens our eyes: Purple hair just means you are creative, a tattoo is body art, and people get things other than their ears pierced.
We taught them about food: Chicken comes in other forms than nugget. You won’t know if you like vegetable curry until you try it. Who knew that just a few years later they would ask us to try the Lenni-Lenape rabbit stew at their third-grade Native American feast?
Our kids informed us that the word for people who don’t eat macaroni and cheese or scrambled eggs is vegan, not picky. They taught us that we don’t have to eat our green vegetables anymore; we can drink kale in a smoothie with beets and wheat grass; it’s served in an eco-friendly glass bottle for $9 at a trendy café. When we crave sugar at midnight, we don’t have to eat stale Oreos. We can get warm cookies delivered to our door using an app the kids downloaded for us.
As our children took up hobbies and brought home pets, they got us involved, too: We fed granola to pet rats and frozen mice to a pet snake. We took scuba diving lessons in a local swimming pool even though we were terrified. We cheered at robotic competitions and learned how to judge Lincoln-Douglas debates. We now know that break and lock are useful vocabulary words for both a hip-hop dancer and a high school wrestler.
Growing up, we two played the piano and clarinet. Our kids played those and more. We’ve learned that it’s easier to deliver a forgotten clarinet to school than a cello, it’s harder to find a teacher for the steel drum than the French horn, and it’s a miracle when the middle school orchestra ends on the same note at the same time.
Our music mavens have more than 30,000 songs on their playlists, and they’ve exposed us to musical genres beyond Motown and hard rock. They taught us that grunge doesn’t mean it needs to be washed, crunk is not a noise your car makes, and Euro pop is not a German soda.
When we grew up, travel was limited to summers at the Shore or winter getaways to Florida. Now our kids are world travelers; they’ve told us that in China you can get a $5 massage from a blind person and that the Czech language is so difficult that only thing you’ll learn how to say is “Sýrový sendvič, prosím,” which, of course, means “Cheese sandwich, please.” Most shocking? It’s possible to cram three weeks worth of clothes in a carry-on.
We look forward to the next stage of our kids’ lives, by which we mean weddings and babies. Except that none of our kids are there yet. Still, we’re eager for them to teach us about digital wedding favors, having your best guy friend be your maid of honor, and the proper way to put baby Hudson or baby Harper to bed in an organic cotton sleep pod.