My daughters are nine and 12 years old, a time of personal
Children this age bounce facts around like rubber balls. Do I
know how old the earth is? Can I explain why Pluto isn't
considered a true planet?
Because I can't conjure answers to these and other questions,
they doubt my legitimacy as an authority figure.
It's easy to feel all-knowing when you can remember everything
you've ever been taught. It's only later in life that the mind
becomes crowded with
facts, so many facts that a person begins to forget. It's knowing
forgotten something which allows doubt to soften arrogance.
little more than comprehending the depth and breadth of all you
If you took all the facts I once knew but have since lost, and
into grains of sand, they could blanket a small beach. Some I've
the erosion of time, others I've actively repressed. Either way,
goneand good riddance. Of all the lessons I've learned in
chosen to retain fewer than a dozen. Everything else I can look
reference books when I need to.
I know how to do arithmetic. For a few years I deliberately
forgot how to
subtract. In this age of calculators I judged subtraction an
skill. I was wrong. I had to relearn subtraction when my oldest
entered first grade.
I know that nothing beats a good encyclopedia when it comes to
facts, but whatever you're looking for, it won't be in there. I
vehicular right-of-way works best when ceded, not claimed, and I
know you can exercise every morning and never get thin, but if
you snack every night you'll surely grow fat.
I know that food is medicinal. You can treat a mild depression
chocolate, but a case of the blues lasting longer than a week
something baked, frozen or fried. And everyone knows there are
two kinds of food: the kind your mommy made to cheer you up when
you were a child, and everything else.
I understand the essential paradox to parenthood: Each second you
helping your children with homework or listening to quarrels
eternity. But the sum of all those eternities passes in the blink
of an eye.
I know that love is a verb, not a noun. You don't own someone's
you posses a purse or a car. You must love other people actively
deliberately. Unconditional love is rare and wonderful, and is
one of the
few things in life you can neither earn nor refuse. It is made
because someone wills it to be so. It's the closest thing in this
magic, and like a fairy tale spell, it can be removed only by the
I know I love my children unconditionally.
I know that friendship is built on trust as much as honesty. When
to friends, not every criticism is meant to hurt, and not every
is given sincerely. When your friend asks if her $200 dress makes
fat, she trusts you'll lie if necessary.
I know the world was brought to life as a deliberate act of
creation by a
force I can neither comprehend nor identify. I don't assert this
factual event, but I have faith. Faith is a paradox which has
value only in
the face of ambiguity. When the facts are certain, faith is
These are the matters I know with certainty: love, friendship,
food. They're not flashy and they don't impress my children, but
lessons which have sustained me through passing time and changing
circumstance. One day even these few kernels of knowledge may
slip from my memory. By then, I hope I've passed them to my
daughters. That's the best they can hope to get from me; I plan
to spend the rest of their inheritance.
And for the record, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. I would
a birthday cake but the candles might have melted Pluto which
all--merely a chunk of cosmic ice and not a planet in the true
sense of the
KATHY PURCELL is a professional newspaper columnist and mom who is active in the Internet writing community.