Today I am heading to visit my parents and that has got me thinking about parents as transmitters of wisdom. Parents are sometimes unaware of what they may be teaching their children just by going about living their daily life but observation is a very powerful tool and the old adage “do as I say, not as I do” is not really effective. Sometimes it gets to be very difficult for parents to accept that the habits and traits that irritate them most about their children in fact have been picked up by observing them. In my case this is very true. I am not proud that I modelled stubbornness and impatience with my children often and it is not fun to be treated impatiently by my young adult children. That being said I can look at so many good things that my parents modelled and that have now been transmitted to me and my children.
My parents are from the ‘hard working’ generation. They believed that if you ‘put your nose to the grindstone’ and ‘buckled down’ you could succeed. They modelled this for us by going from having basically nothing but each other and their children, to paying off two properties, providing us with a beautiful recreational property to enjoy every summer, providing for any education we wanted and then turning around and repeating that with their grandchildren. They provided rides and support to my children as they grew up and participated in sports, music and 4-H. My parents were always there for my kids. If one of them had a game and Gram and Pa were not notified so they could be there cheering they were disappointed and hurt.
Another thing my parents modelled to me was resourcefulness. My Mom, in particular could make a meal out of nothing. I remember when we were young and short on cash we would be hungry and asking Mom what was for dinner. She would sometimes reply ‘pine floats.’ I remember the first time she told us that. Floats, I thought? We never get treats like that; I wonder what a pine float is? To my dismay I learned that a pine float is a toothpick floating in water. This was my Mom’s way of telling us to stop bugging her and let her get about making whatever it is she decided to make and that she would not be taking requests. Mom used humour often and I’m sure it was one of her coping strategies to quell her uneasiness about not being able to provide for her children and to avoid alarming us that that might be the case.
As we got older my parents hard work paid off and they were able to breathe a little easier. They no longer had to worry about enough money for groceries; they were comfortable but not rolling in excess. Some of the things I watched my parents do to save money and provide were things such as, going into the forest and collecting cedar blocks and then spending hours splitting the blocks into shakes for a roof. My brothers and my Dad spent so much time carefully splitting the blocks and storing the shakes in the garage for when they would need a new roof. Generosity was also modelled and those shakes sat in the garage for years and were finally given to my oldest brother when he needed a new roof.
My Mom was and still is such a hard worker. She always worked full time. She would get up early and often walk to and from work in order to fit in her exercise which we learned was very important. On top of that my Mom made all our food from scratch. I can remember on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, she would mix up a big batch of bread dough and put it in a covered bowl on the counter to rise. Off she would go to work and then at lunch she would hustle home, punch the dough down and form the loaves. They would be covered and left to rise a second time. After work she would hurry home and put the loaves in the oven to bake and that is how we had our bread for part of the week. Saturdays were cleaning the house and bread day as well. She would repeat the same steps only this time she would make an even bigger batch of dough so that she could make us cinnamon buns for a treat. All the while she would be organizing us to get our allotted house and yard work done while she worked away at jobs she did not have time to get to during the week. Nobody was allowed to do anything with friends or for leisure until their Saturday chores were done. At the time I remember hating Saturday mornings but funnily enough I found myself repeating this pattern with my own children for a time. Through participating with and observing my parents, I learned to look after my belongings no matter how inexpensive or costly they had been and there are many jobs that need to be done to maintain a home and provide good food for a family.
Another one of the things my parents did to provide for their family was garden. They would both participate in the preparation, weeding and watering of the garden but my Mom was the head cook and bottle washer when it came to preserving and preparing the food. I spent many hours at my Mom’s side following instructions to boil canning lids, wipe the tops of the jars, pour in the syrup and such. Mom got really resourceful for a few years and we spent the winters eating canned everything. We had our favourites like cherries, peaches, pears and jam and then the ones we hated such as carrots, peas and even chicken one year. Mom discovered that it was cheaper to raise your own birds and then process them yourself so her and my aunt raised all these chickens and then butchered, gutted, plucked and wrapped the birds themselves. You can imagine after that episode that we were a little turned off chicken. My job was plucker and I remember being envious that my brothers got to gut and see the eggs and innards of the birds. I thought it looked so interesting.
So this brings me to today. My Mom often marvels at how much I like to make things with my hands. I have raised chickens, grown vegetables, kept a beautiful flower garden, grown fruit trees, picked mushrooms, canned, made chocolate truffles, baked bread, spun wool, knit and woven. She can’t understand where I got the know how and willingness to learn all these things. Really? I rest my case on proving that the most effective way to teach your children is through being a good role model. I may have not been listening so well but I was definitely watching.