Teach Your Children Well

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The other day I got behind the wheel of my husband’s car and panicked. The fuel tank was so low that the warning light had come on, and the needle was perilously close to empty.

“Relax,” my husband said. “You’ve got 28 miles before the gas runs out.”

I didn’t trust it. Ever since I started driving at age 16, I had been taught by my father never to let the gas gauge go under a quarter of a tank. It was wise advice that has kept me from being one of those roadside losers who run out of gas and have to call AAA or hoof it for miles to the nearest gas station. To this day, I make sure to fill the tank it gets close to the quarter mark.

The lessons our parents teach stick with us for the rest of our lives. I remember once shopping with my mom at a department store. She had been carrying a couple of pairs of pajamas in her arms, considering whether or not to buy them, and was no doubt distracted by having several children in tow. As she left the store and headed into the parking lot, she noticed she was still carrying the unpaid for merchandise. No sensors had gone off, and no security guard had hustled after her. But she turned right around and marched us all back into the store so that she could return the clothes. That simple action taught me never to take what wasn’t mine and to be honest and scrupulous in other areas of life.

Other things my parents taught me over the years were not to swear, not to fight (physically), to treat people with respect, write thank you notes, work hard, play fair, and take credit only for one’s own work. Most of these things they taught, not by words, but by example.

Our children are little sponges soaking up the atmosphere around them. They note what we do and say way more than we would like to think. For instance, when my oldest child was little, one of her first words started with “sh.” Clearly she heard me cursing under my breath frequently throughout the day and was simply mimicking me. Luckily, her baby voice wasn’t super clear, so no one but I knew what she was actually saying. This same child loved to hover around the edges of adult conversation as she grew up. I truly hope that what she heard from her dad and me was positive and life-affirming, not gossipy or negative. But I’m not kidding myself.

As kids get older, they tune out a lot of what their parents say. But they are still watching what we do. If our lives convey honesty, respect, compassion, and integrity, they will come to value those qualities in themselves. If we take care of our health, eat right, and exercise, so will they.

Of course, children are not clones. They will make mistakes and err in judgment just as we did when we were young. But if we are careful as parents to model lives of kindness and responsibility, the trajectory of our kids’ lives is likely to follow a similar path.

As Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang, “Teach your children well.” When they become parents themselves, they will remember the lessons of their youth and carry them forward into the future.

The Little Things

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healthy-family-dinner-keeps-the-weight-offThe little things in life are the big things. That’s what age and wisdom have taught me as I meander into my sixties.

The other night, I lingered with my husband and two of my children over the remnants of a steak dinner, a homecoming dinner of sorts for my college-age son, who had just returned from a summer internship across the country. Our conversation would never make it as scintillating movie scene dialogue. But just being there with my family sharing a meal at the kitchen table constitutes one of the great joys of my life.

So too with my morning cup of coffee, enjoyed on my front porch in the morning while the summer air is still comfortable and not muggy. I’m able to sit out there in my pajamas, concealed from the street by bushes and trees. Today I read the paper and completed the Tuesday crossword (another little thing that gives me outsized pleasure) outside before going in to start my day of errands and chores.

A walk through the neighborhood, a good book, a glass of wine. A kiss, a hug, the warmth of my husband’s hand in mine. Sharing a laugh with my sister or a good friend. Watching a great movie or television series. Listening to a Chopin nocturne. Even the peaceful and methodical act of folding clean laundry. All these little things add up in a life.

My daughter and I have taken to playing card games lately. As summer wanes and the schedules of school and sports loom ahead, we are having fun whiling away the time with such games as gin rummy and crazy eights. To my daughter’s dismay, I am seriously kicking her ass at gin rummy. Sometimes the old lady seasoned veteran holds all the cards (pun intended).

It’s wonderful occasionally to plan a huge celebration or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. An evening of live music or theater, a trip downtown to see the fireworks, dinner at that gourmet restaurant you’ve read about: these are all fine diversions to spice up our everyday lives. But for me, the accumulation of small pleasures day by day is what makes me truly content. I hope to amass memories of thousands more little things in the course of my life.

They really are the big things.

 

In the Scrum

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18157322_1591400950892487_212723468669144388_nLast weekend, I had the opportunity to watch my son and his team compete in the Rugby National Championship in Denver, Colorado. Four top teams from small colleges across the country met to battle it out on the field in a sport that is unfamiliar to most Americans.

Until my son started playing rugby in his senior year of high school, I was unfamiliar with such terms as “line out,” “ruck,” “knock on,” and “scrum.” Fans at his games were mostly mystified by this sport that looks like football but is so different from that iconic American game. Luckily for us, our announcer would explain each referee call and other action so that, slowly but surely, we are learning the ins and outs of a game developed in the UK during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

My son’s success in rugby is not at all a surprise to me. When he was four years old, he told me he wanted to play that game where “all the guys pile on top of each other.” Sure enough, by age 10 he was playing tackle football and enjoyed laying out his opponents from his spot on the defensive line. Total fearlessness made him an excellent defensive tackle. He had the good fortune to be accepted into a great college in California where he continues to play American football and his more recent passion, rugby.

Over the weekend, I was able to see the camaraderie of the young men both on and off the field. And as I watched the odd formation known as the scrum, I saw it as a kind of metaphor for the relationship and purpose of these boys who are quickly becoming men. In the scrum, teammates literally hook themselves together in a unit, bearing down and pushing against a group of opponents, both sides attempting to move and gain possession of the ball. It’s a moment of intensity and even intimacy, as the teammates are joined in a single goal.

The Claremont Colleges Rugby Football team became the National Champions in a resounding victory of 65-0 against the Tufts University Jumbos. Words can’t express how elated my son’s team was at their tremendous feat. During the awards ceremony, they were irrepressible, cheering each other and teasing, clearly a band of brothers. But what meant the most to me was the award my son received: one for being the heart of the team off the field. Knowing that he means this much to his fellow teammates and coaches is to me the most meaningful thing to come out of his rugby experience.

Long after these young men hang up their football and rugby cleats, they will be out in the world working, raising families, and contributing to society. After seeing how they have connected with each other and how they have committed to being the best at something tough, gritty, and fierce, I have no doubt they will do great things. And I am so very grateful that my son is a part of something bigger than himself, something that will serve to make him more selfless, determined, and bonded to others as he continues on his journey to adulthood.

Plank in the Eye

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Recently I was describing an acquaintance of mine to my husband.

“She’s not a very happy person,” I said. “She’s always complaining about something.”

My husband gave me a sidelong glance and said nothing.

That’s when it hit me; I was describing myself.

In the New Testament, Jesus asks his followers, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

It is so easy to see the faults of others yet very hard to see our own. I like to think of myself as a happy person, but the fact is, I can be very negative. I have complaints about my kids’ schools and teachers, my friends and family members, and myriad strangers who don’t measure up to my standards. And if I’m being honest, I usually see the glass as half empty.

I have heard that if there is something you really hate about a person, it is because you possess that trait and wish you could get rid of it. This makes sense to me. In my family I have my biggest clashes with the children who are most like me. Last school year, I had a problem tolerating one of my children’s teachers. Why? Because she reminded me of myself when I was a young teacher. Looking back, I wonder how parents tolerated me.

My one saving grace is my ability to laugh at myself. When I caught a mirrored glimpse of myself in this negative friend, I laughed. Of course, this gave my husband permission to roll his eyes and say, “Sounds like someone I know. You two could be twins!” This made me howl even more, and I laughed until I cried.

Which was a good thing – because I think it washed that plank out of my eye.