Jan 2, 2014

Life Lessons

As we move into the new year, I've gotten a bit philosophical and my mind has wandered to life lessons. What do we learn from our parents?  What do we teach our children?  Parents try to pass on certain values and ethics to their children, but often as not the kids have a very different take-away.

For example, my parents used to take my sister and me on Sunday afternoon rides in the country.  Cindy and I would lie upside down on the back seat and count the trees and telephone poles as we sped along. Our father would take the little hills too fast in order to give us all a roller-coaster-like thrill.  We would lift off the seat and plop back down, filled with the rush of excitement/daring. I remember once our father had to brake suddenly and my young body flipped over the front seat and landed near my mother's lap. Laughter ensued from the grownups and then I was folded back over the seat.  I think our father had several life lessons in mind on those rides: seize the day, have your fun when you can, be unconventional, don't follow the rules, getting out in the country is good, etc.  What lesson did I take?  Wear seat belts.  Always wear seat belts!  They weren't even invented yet, but I was looking ahead.

Our parents were working class people, hardworking, stressed, and they had expectations that we would learn how to do chores and help around the house.  They did not have high aspirations for us because they were realists and they only knew what they knew. There was no expectation that my sister or I would go to college, nor our younger brother.  We would get jobs, marry, settle down. My sister and I were taught the inside chores: laundry, dishes, dusting, etc.  Our brother was taught the one outdoor chore: cutting the grass. Despite the fact that our father helped with cooking and cleaning, and even enjoyed them, and would have made a damned good stay-at-home dad, gender roles were high on the list of lessons to be passed on to us.  What did I take from this? Sexism bad, feminism good.  Sexism bad, feminism good.  Also, I must go to college.  Not sure why, but I must go.  

Now of course, I wonder what my daughters have learned from my husband and me.  If we tried to teach them anything, it was to be left wing.  Politics were very one-sided in our home.  And we taught them that entertaining is a good thing to do; have parties, invite friends, cook good food.  But what else did they learn from us through all the day-to-day living?  All the times we weren't trying to pass along any nuggets of wisdom.  When I was driving, or reading, or going out with my friends...when their dad was working, or napping, or making enchilada sauce...what were they peeking under the table to see? What did they absorb and to what did they inwardly resolve to always do the opposite?  Too early to tell.    

As I look back at that list in the first paragraph, I see that some of my dad's lessons stuck after all: have your fun when you can: check.  Getting out in the country is good: check. Be unconventional: check. We've definitely passed that one on to our children, too, whether we were trying to or not. One example: when our younger daughter was in first grade, her teacher asked each of the students what his or her favorite movie was.  Around the room the little darlings declared "Little Mermaid” or similar kid stuff.  Our daughter? "Lethal Weapon Two," she announced to the stunned teacher.  Not just Lethal Weapon, no, she preferred the second in the series. Hmmmm, showing our first-grader R rated movies...maybe "Don't follow the rules" stuck, too.