Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things My Parents Taught Me

This post was supposed to go up, like, two weeks ago, but shit got busy and I didn't finish it in time. Whaddaya' gonna do? As a loving tribute to my mom and dad, here are some of the things they might not even be aware that they taught me.

It's never too late

I was born less than a year after my parents got married, and at nineteen and twenty, they were young parents. Needless to say, there was a lot of the big, wide world they hadn't seen or experienced yet.

My mom decided to go get her nursing degree when my brothers and I were very young. It took several years of juggling schedules, getting creative with finances, and sacrificing time and comfort from both of my parents, but when I was eleven I watched my mother walk down an aisle in a white cap and gown and receive her degree. That never left me.

Over the past decade or so college has become much less of a "young person's" game and has become more accessible to learners from all walks of life. I did two years of college right out of high school, dropped out, started a family, and then realized when I was twenty-five that I wanted that for myself, too. The image of my mom sitting cross-legged on the couch, poring over thick tomes and notebooks was always at the edge of my thoughts, pushing me when I felt like it was just too damned hard, when I was tired and my daughter was sick and my husband was stuck working overtime again and the babysitter had an emergency and I had every reason to just quit again. And in May 2011, I earned my bachelor's degree and I walked down an aisle in a black gown with my then eight year-old daughter watching me, just as I watched my mother almost twenty years before.

My college graduation, nineteen years after my mother's. And yes, there is a sizable bun in that oven. I did not hit the Chipotle on my way in.

Give stew

You know how elementary schools have those canned food drives around the holidays? I remember going to my dad to ask him for canned goods for one of those and him going through the cabinet with me. I was grabbing peas and corn and whatever, but he stopped me and handed me a few cans of Dinty Moore beef stew. He told me that while the vegetables were great and all that, a family couldn't make a meal out of a can of corn alone. If there weren't many cans to go around, it made more sense to give out cans of stew because it could feed a family a meal. I can't tell you why that stuck with me, but every time I participate in a food drive, I make a conscious effort to build meals or give stew because that just made so much sense to me.

Leave toilet paper

We moved several times when I was a kid and my parents always made sure to leave a roll of toilet paper for the next residents. They pointed out to me that when you move it's easy to forget things like t.p. when you're trying to make sure you have all your boxes and furniture. Ever since I've always made putting a fresh roll of toilet paper out the last thing I do before I leave a home for the last time.

No "and" in alphabet

My persnickety dad found the "y AND z" part of the alphabet very irritating and he taught me to sing the song without the "and". His point was that "and" is not a letter, and while you could argue that "and" is just pulling the list of letters together, I developed the habit of leaving it out and I still do to this day.

How to accept a gift

My mom and dad would have beaten my ass raw if I had ever reacted to a gift, no matter how shitty or thoughtless or unappreciated, with anything less than absolute grace and gratitude. Seriously. Ass beating. 

I carry that with me and have instilled that same fear in my own daughter. We don't spank, but if she ever reacted like a spoiled brat to a gift the temptation to have her pick a switch might be more than I could resist.

Bear genuinely loves this gift, but she could TOTALLY fake it if she didn't.

To think for myself

My parents were pretty open minded about any church or religion I wanted to explore. We didn't attend church as a family, but through a variety of friends and church vans I was able to explore many different philosophies. All were within the Christian realm, but that religious fluidity made me a far more critical thinker when I became an adult. I took and enjoyed a few religion and philosophy classes and I feel like my ability to explore and question information and to think about it critically is in large part due to my parents' willingness to let me do just that as a child. I wasn't presented with a lot of absolutes when I was young, and I'm grateful for that. It gave me flexibility and a certain amount of open-mindedness.

No lavish praise 

My parents, and my dad in particular, were not big on the over-the-top praise. I'm not saying they didn't commend me on a job well done; only that I wasn't given the Da Vinci treatment over every drawing of an elephant or branded the next Einstein because I aced a spelling test.  My dad was very reserved in his praise, usually offering a nod and a, "Very good," before turning his attention elsewhere. You might think this sounds cold, but I think it makes sense. I'm not saying I don't have a deep-seeded desire to please my parents and have them approve of my decisions/accomplishments/ideas. I do, as I think most people do. But I know where I stand with my parents. If my dad compliments my work or idea or whatever, I know he means it. I never have to wonder if he's "just saying that" to make me feel good about myself.

I know that's a lot of talking, but it's an introspective time of year and I've had my parents on my mind a lot. It's important to understand where we come from, in both a nature and nurture sense. I am very much like both of my parents, and I'm proud of that.

1 comment:

  1. The How to Accept a gift thing really hits home. The ex and his family were not above saying, "This sucks" or "God, grandma, do you not even know what size I am" etc. A neighbor and friend of mine said this week that her daughter threw a fit because her Christmas Eve gift was a skirt, and said, "She's just that age." Well, no. It's your parenting. My kids have NEVER reacted that way to a gift. They are always grateful and if they don't like something, they tell me later in private. Plus, my daughter is the same age as my neighbor's daughter. So, no. Not the age.