When I was in high school, I really struggled with math. Abstract reasoning challenged me; logarithms just seemed like isolated knowledge and confirmed my need not to be an architect. Thanks to outstanding teachers my two final years of high school, my grades rose and I truly learned and retained some mathematical knowledge. (I’ll never forget you, SOHCATOA). My confidence was still shaky, so on my quizzes and tests next to the Name line I would sometimes write, “Ignorance is Bliss”. In that isolated instance, it really was. Then I became a teacher and the real life questions began.
“Did Jesus have Superman underpants?” “What is syphilis?” “Can you teleport?” “When will I EVER use this?” “What do I need on the final to pass this class?” “Why don’t old people see their own nose-hair?” “Did you know Moses?” “Why did my parents give me a baby brother instead of a puppy?” “When are you finally going have kids?” I am quite sure my children will be familiar with the a Steel Magnolia’s quote, “Don’t ask me these questions, I don’t know why! I don’t make the rules!”
One of the hardest life lessons we learn is you DON’T have to tell all you know. Example A: the child-anatomy expert in Kindergarden Cop. If you were a parent, a child, or remotely conscious in the 90s, you are aware of G.I. Joe. This real American Hero touted the wisdom, “Knowing is Half the Battle”. Preach it, Joe. There are a lot of unknowns in the world. We have a natural curiosity and a natural plan of attack for our ignorance; ask and conduct research. Our first frequent question is “Why?” and then progresses to the 5 Ws and How. (How in the WORLD did you fit that up your nose?) Thankfully, these days we can always ask Google or our i-gadget. There are endless solutions, ideas, advice columns, maps, books… there are even explanations “for dummies” for the self-aware.
I have sometimes called to apologize to my parents for various stages of my youth, but particularly my infant and teen years. Both were times I habitually rolled my eyes and said, “I KNOW!” As a teenager, I knew everything. I should have written it down. Now I am a total ignoramus. Anytime I doubt it, a more experienced mother or perfect stranger in the grocery store (see previous blog) will do me the honor of reminding me of what I should apparently already know and how to do it correctly.
The problem is that knowing is only half the battle.
In this house, I’m the Mom. Thus, I’ve got it all under control. I also have no idea what I am doing. It just depends which minute of the day it is. This morning of teething joy renewed my faith in demon possession and confirmed the accuracy of Hell’s description: “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. Welcome, two new molars. I knew it would be ugly, but “knowing isn’t doing”. After a year with this man-child I may not have the answers, but I can certainly troubleshoot better than the annoying Microsoft Paperclip Assistant. I think he waits for us to look away and then “reformats” our papers to the place where the missing socks are detained. Usually the cause of the whine or cry can be identified as hitting naptime, meal time, or- the great cause of universal frustration- having pants full of poop. Sometimes there is a solution; sometimes there is none at all.
My awesome husband spent the first several months coming home to a crumpled, crying, vomit-soaked Gollum-like creature that resembled his wife. A year later, I have progressed light-years (with a long way to go). No wonder when the crying starts my beloved asks me, “What’s wrong with him?!” The poor man has no idea when there will be a logical answer or when that last crank on the Mom-in-the-Box will come popping up, hands flying and declare, “I DON’T KNOW! He is another human being that doesn’t speak in sentences! I have NO IDEA what is wrong!”
Confess: when did you last walk into a room and promptly forgot why? When did you last forget that birthday, that important call, or that “have to have it” item from the store? When did “knowing better” last have no impact whatsoever on your behavior?
If you’ve ever taught a novice ANYTHING, chances are you’ve heard, “I don’t know how” or “I don’t know what I’m doing!”, even if they’ve mastered this particular skill or they have every capacity to do what is asked. Often this is an indication of the OTHER half of the battle. Confidence, experience, flexibility, the ability to handle problems and successfully maneuver to plan B; these are just pieces of the other half of the battle. I’m not certain that the phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know” is true. As I get older I am ever-aware of all I don’t know. Even if I know the answer, I can’t always offer a significant, well-articulated answer. I will soon need to know what bubbles are made out of, why squirrels can’t teleport, and how cheddar goldfish get smiles made into them.
What skill, person, or information did you used to know that is now hard to recall? Ah, the whole premise of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” unraveled. The truth is, sometimes not knowing is a blessing. Other times it can be terrifying. Not knowing about a child’s well-being keeps mothers awake until 2 am and loved ones eating hospital food for weeks as they await word. Not knowing terrifies the young soldier’s wife, stock brokers, bookies, and surgeons. The element of surprise can determine victory or defeat in battle. Knowing warning signs can save lives. What you don’t know CAN hurt you.
Sometimes what we ‘know’ changes too frequently to plan adequately. (Amen, military folks and parents? ) Sometimes what we know is not correct or not the entire picture. Often, we just need to be reminded of what we already know. As we fight life’s battles, carry your knowledge and the wisdom to know it isn’t always enough. My dear ones, “knowing on only half the battle”- but, you already know that.