Parents teach all kinds of lessons
The sweet scent of honeysuckle has filled the air lately, and I wonder. Did I teach our girls how to get the nectar out of honeysuckle?
We hand down knowledge generation to generation, but along the way we drop some things.
Now that our daughters are young women — though forever “the girls” to us — we’ve had time to catch our breath. And lately I’ve been wondering what I forgot to pass along.
And what Mom never got a chance to pass along to me.
For example, I never lingered in the kitchen long enough for Mom to teach me how to cut up a chicken. Fortunately the chicken processors take care of that for us now.
But honeysuckle was a different matter. One of the sublime treats of springtime was plucking off a honeysuckle flower, pinching off the end and gently pulling out the string-like thing inside until a fat drop of nectar emerged to be licked off. Every child should know how to do that.
High school commencement is coming up in about 10 days. Young graduates will be winging away from the nest soon — to the beach first, then college or the military, jobs or the unknown.
As a parent I remember our daughters’ graduations as times of excitement and pride and — in the quiet moments — wondering if we’d taught our children what they needed to know to keep themselves safe.
Only now, more than a decade after that first graduation, have I started to wonder about less obvious lessons, like appreciating honeysuckle. And knowing some of the greatest pleasures have nothing to do with your status or bank account. Being rich in spirit is not about what you can buy, but what you appreciate.
What about sewing? Mom made a point of teaching us how to sew on buttons and hem skirts — something my two sisters and I did a lot in the ‘70s, making our skirts shorter and shorter. Mom was aghast at the amount of material we hacked off the bottom of those Villager and John Meyer skirts.
One summer she signed us up for classes at the Singer Sewing Center, where all three of us learned to operate a sewing machine. By the end of the class, each of us had made a dress.
Do my daughters know how to hem a skirt or thread a sewing machine?
Mom taught us songs that have faded out of common use. In the days before DVDs, tape players and reliable radios, we sang a lot on car rides. Tumbling around in the car before seat belts, Mom kept us entertained by teaching us songs like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” And on a slow day she would drive us to the train station downtown to watch trains come and go.
When we rode to one cousin’s house out in the county, we took “the bumpy road.” The rural road was so hilly that our little bottoms would lift off the seat as the car cleared each peak and started downward again, like a roller coaster. We shrieked with delight. “Faster!”
My girls and I did our share of singing on car rides, usually to the tunes of “Wee Sing” tapes. We didn’t find any bumpy roads, but we had our adventures — looking for the end of the rainbow, chasing a giant moon, sliding backwards down an icy street and nearly crashing into someone’s mailbox. I’m pretty sure I heard some shrieking then too. We came that close.
“You Are Not Special,” says the title of a book by a high school teacher in Massachusetts. That was the title of a commencement speech he gave one year, and it was such a hit that he expanded the speech into a book.
The teacher, David McCullough Jr., says today’s kids are raised amid too much unreality — privileged, “micromanaged and indulged to their detriment” — that they aren’t ready for the rough-and-tumble real world. Their egos may be too fragile. Or, in the push to be exceptional, they can become too self-centered to care about the larger world.
Our first-world problems — which shoes to wear? — are trivial in a world where millions of children have no shoes, McCullough says.
“We should see the comfort and security we enjoy and the resources at our disposal as opportunities, as responsibilities, to do the planet and those who inhabit it some good, to right what wrongs we can, to shoulder our share of the load and then some.”
I’m beginning to wonder what legacy our generation will leave for our children and grandchildren. While some suffer over-indulgence, many families were wrecked by the recession. This is a very different world than the one we were born into.
But honeysuckle still grows on fence posts. Music still lifts spirits. And children will forever make our hearts swell with pride and love as they pick up their diplomas and stride into the rest of their lives. They are special, to us.
Congratulations, Mom and Dad. You’ve graduated. Enjoy the sweetness of this moment like the drop of nectar it is.
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.