I know that many of you have observed parents holding their child’s hand while waiting, on a street corner, to cross the street. If so, I suspect that you can visualize a parent leaning down, speaking softly to the child, pointing to the movement of the traffic and then pointing to the traffic lights. You know what was going on: The parent was teaching the child how to safely cross the street.
As I thought about this type of guidance provided by parents to their children, my mind quickly took me back to the multitude of experiences that I had with my parents; experiences where they taught me at a young age, things that enabled me to survive; big things as well as little things, that you too may have experienced, back in the day.
Two things that immediately come to mind when I think of the things that my parents taught me are how to tie my shoes and how to make my bed. Most of us can recall the days when our mother or father would bend down and tie our shoes. Eventually a day came when you were told that you were old enough to tie your own shoes. While there are several approaches to tying one’s shoes, the manner in which I was taught, by my mother, was quite simple. While I no longer use this technique, I used it for most of my childhood days. First, my mother showed me how to cross my laces to create an X directly over the tongue of my shoe. The laces were tied and I was then shown how to wrap the end of both ends of my laces to tighten them. A loop was created to resemble bunny ears. While keeping the two loops near the initial knot, they were tied together.
Why am I sharing this detail? It is to remind some of you of this fond experience with our mothers. I suspect that a number of you recall being taught this method to tie your shoes. In fact, I understand that some people continue to use this method today. Do you recall the days when you got out of bed in the morning, went into the bathroom and returned to find your bed made? But there came a day when this was no longer the case. While most of us cannot pinpoint exactly when this occurred, the day eventually arrived when you received instructions, usually from your mother, on how to make your bed. For me, there were no formal instructions. Rather, my mother simply told me one morning to watch what she was doing as she expected me to start making up my own bed. You may recall pulling up your sheets to eliminate wrinkles and then tucking them under your mattress. I did this just as I recall seeing my mother do. Remembering my mother’s work ethic, I then placed my blanket over the sheet and finally the bed spread.
Doing small things as a result of my mother’s teachings like tying my shoes and making up my bed resurrects thoughts of Ann Landers. According to Landers, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make then successful human beings.”
Parents shared with their children, both boys and girls, instructions about cooking, ironing and sewing. In discussions with several individuals, their faces reflected a broad smile when asked about the role their parents played in these activities.
They had fond memories of learning these tasks from their parents. Unfortunately, I did not benefit from my parents’ instructions with regard to cooking, ironing and sewing. You see, I came from a “super” old-fashioned family and my father viewed cooking, ironing and sewing as tasks for my sisters, not things that little boys should do.
In discussions with others, learning to cook was the most challenging of all of these activities. This was because of the potentially dangerous equipment used in the kitchen for food preparation, cooking and cleanup. The hot stove, sharp knives and other equipment and tools made the cooking experience quite challenging. Some of my colleagues recall their mothers or grandmothers showing them how to crack an egg or adjust the fire for cooking different foods.
Then there were the little tricks that parents passed on to their children with respect to ironing. One such trick was to place a cloth over a garment before pressing it to avoid scorching it or to prevent the shiny appearance that can come from placing the iron directly on an article of clothing. Learning how to make starch when washing clothing was something else children learned from their parents.
Learning to sew with the use of a sewing machine was not an easy task. But, sewing a button on a blouse or shirt; sewing a zipper on pants; sewing a tear in a garment; all by hand was something that many boys and girls quickly picked up from their parents. Even though sewing was not my thing, I too did a little sewing. The one thing that I relied on from my mother was not sewing but rather threading a needle. Many of us could do patchwork-type sewing tasks. But, threading a needle without a “needle threader” was something that I, like many of you, turned to my mother for assistance, back in the day.
Most children received instructions on cleaning the house from their parents. Several people told me that their parents instructed them to never use a mop when cleaning a tiled or linoleum floor. Why, you may ask? Their parents told them to always use a scrub brush as getting down on one’s hands and knees was one sure way that they would clean the cracks against the wall. But, as many of you will recall, there were many other things around the house that our parents taught us to do.
Some reading this column may have memories of their parents showing them how to wash windows with newspapers. Some of you learned from you father or mother how to do some painting; both small and large jobs. Others have memories of their father giving instructions on how to care for the furnace, including banking the stove. If you were old enough to perform these chores than I know that you received instructions on how to wash your parent’s automobile or even help with small repairs such as fixing a flat tire.
Once you reached 16, if you did not take driver’s ed in school, it was one of your parents, usually your father that gave you instructions with regard to how to operate a vehicle.
Did you engage in any gardening? If so, you probably learned the difference between a weed, a flower and a bush from your parents. And, if you cut grass or shoveled snow, you most likely learned to do these things from your father.
There are many other things that we were taught by our parents. For many of us, learning to ride a bicycle pre-dated the era of “training wheels.” So, how did you learn to ride your bicycle? If it was not a neighborhood friend or a big sister or brother, then it was your mother or father. We relied on our mother or father to come outside with us and hold the rear of the bicycle seat as we learned to steady ourselves. When we entered school, learning the alphabet or your numbers took place in school but your first exposure to spelling or counting came from your parents.
As for reaching the age when you went out on your own, your parents made certain that you knew your address and your telephone number. Can any memory of learning from your parents not include learning words such as the following: “Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray dear Lord my soul to take …” Yes, for most of us, our introduction to saying our prayers or blessing our food came from our parents, back in the day.
Then, there were those intangibles that were drilled into the heads of most little boys and girls. We were taught to value ourselves. We learned to be respectful to others. Independence was a value instilled in us. Understanding and embracing the need and importance of critical thinking was passed on from parents to children. Learning who we should trust was something we learned at a very young age; and, to be careful when choosing our friends. Then, there was self-discipline, showing respect, being honest, and being compassionate; just some of the critical aspects of becoming a whole man or woman that came from the teachings of our parents.
I know that most of you could add significantly to those things that I have identified as being taught to you by your parents that made you who you are today. Taking your first steps with you mother or father holding and guiding you by holding your arms and shoulders; combing your hair; brushing your teeth; taking a bath by yourself; sneezing or coughing in your arm, dressing appropriately for the occasion; telling time; using public transportation; hammering a nail; and doing the laundry. Some of you may be able to go far back in time and remember your parents instructing you to wipe from front to back; yes, potty training.
As we reflect on the dysfunctional behavior on the part of some of our youth today, we cannot pin point any particular reason. I have no doubt, however, that the instructions and guidance that we received from our parents, which has slowly disappeared in today’s family environments, have played a significant role in why life today is much different than it once was, back in the day.