There are so many things I want to teach my son. To stand like a tree, to be true, to respect women as equal and also as magnificent, flawed, real human beings, to be kind, to understand the depths and shallows of the seas, to forgive fools, to carefully collect the good-hearted like shells on a beach, to find the part of the natural world that most brings him joy and explore every corner of it.
To file his taxes on time and learn to breathe properly over and underwater, to be humble, to fold sheets the right way because I still don’t know how, to scrub barnacles from friendship when they form, to love his family fiercely and never take them for granted.
To find a purpose and honour it, to look for commonality with every person, to laugh at himself often, to hunt awe, to value silence and the discipline of logging off, to find ways to love his enemies, to learn to cook some things that make people happy, to eschew perfection, to seek the divine.
To dance whenever possible, to keep walking in rain and sleet and snow, to learn self reliance, to not waste a second on the leers of cynics or the jibes of hateful people, to endure, to run and meander and swim and travel and allow himself to make mistakes and be honest, with everyone, and himself. To understand the difference between day wear and night wear, and not just, say, jam a jumper over a school uniform before going to bed. And to recognise that even in the madness, the toxicity, the decay and the rot of the world, music is made, and played, and danced to.
That, as Aslan revealed in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, behind every earthly law is a deeper magic that defies logic; a forgiveness of the unforgivable, a selfless gesture, a moment of grace. That this grace fuels galaxies, that the sun powers the planet and the moon pulls the tides, but the universe is largely unknown, spinning and vast and that in itself is an ode to curiosity.
That he should study the craft of the mathematicians, but also listen to the poets and learn from the bards. That he should respect the 60,000-year history of this country, listen to the lament of its original inhabitants, recognise their rightful, central place in our land, and lean against those who would block, mute, resist or diminish them.
And that’s the start.
But the older he gets, the more I also realise how much he is teaching me.
He has what American poet Jack Gilbert calls a “stubborn gladness”. He’s only nine, but he delights in life and it's contagious. The greatest moments of his life were: 1. When he had a bowl of delicious pasta, plain, with olive oil, on the Gold Coast. 2. When he had a ball of raw pizza dough in Washington DC. This was, for him, the highlight of a trip to America.
The rule at our dinner table is that every child must ask every visiting adult two questions, so they learn to think about people around them instead of just batting away cliched questions like: “How is school?”
Often they ask about the day friends had, or what colour they like most, or the meal they’d eat if only allowed one for the rest of their lives. But often my boy gets weird. As his godfather told me, “he thinks sideways”. Last night it was: “If you were a piece of ham in the fridge and you had to find your way out of the house and get past the cat to go to another country, how would you do it? And you can’t walk and you don’t have arms you can only wriggle.”
When he was a toddler he developed his own habit of going around the dinner table and asking everyone what their favourite part of the day was: “What your fav-rite part day?” Around we’d go then he’d launch again: “What your second fav-rite part day?”
Inevitably, his would be that exact moment. We could go to Disneyland, glide along several miles of water slides, jump on enormous trampolines or eat ice cream at the beach, but his answer would almost always be: “Dinner here now with all of you.”
Gilbert describes small moments of joy as a kind of store, or an inoculation against future pain. He writes:
“To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboatcomes slowly out and then goes back is truly worthall the years of sorrow that are to come.”
But who wants to think of those years now, when oars are slicing through water?
What I really want my son to know is that life, with all its striving and seriousness, its cerebral quests and spiritual yearning, is contained in crisp red apples and white-marble moons, furry caterpillars and leopard-spotted slugs, the slobbering of excitable dogs, laughter, the crashing of waves, the sighting of a seal over a cliff or a cuttlefish on a reef, the scent of jasmine after a morning swim, a steaming bowl of fresh pasta, the smell of a just-baked cake; that of all these jostling, bobbing moments sustain us. They are the string that threads our days.
But if I am completely honest, this is actually what he is teaching me.
Julia Baird hosts The Drum on ABCTV. Twitter: @bairdjulia