Friday, February 7, 2014

Teach Your Children Well

My grandma with my cousin
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
--Robert A. Heinlein, American science fiction writer

My aunt
My mom called me this morning on her way to work. 

Did I want to change our plans for this weekend and bring the boys over to her house instead of my dad and her coming to mine? She asked.

Not really, I replied. I wanted my parents and sister to come up to our house so my dad could hang some shelves for us with his cordless drill (a power tool we do not own). Oh that's right, Okay, she agreed.

After relaying this conversation to my husband, his face fell. At first he was disappointed; he wanted to break our string of stir-crazy winter days with a visit to my parents'. Then, he was almost (being the perpetually cheery soul he is...) a little indignant. 

"It just seems silly to have your dad come all the way up here to do something I could do myself," he remarked.

Yeah, I realized as I thought about it for a little bit. It did seem silly. Not only was it silly for my dad to do something for us that my husband probably could do himself, it was silly that my husband really doesn't know how to hang a shelf. (Not yet, at least).

And for that matter, I realized, it was silly that I couldn't hang a shelf either!

My dad (left front) getting early experience hanging things 
We must be swift as a coursing river
With all the force of a great typhoon
With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon"
Those lyrics from the Disney movie Mulan sprang to mind as I thought over the shelf hanging situation. "I'll make a man out of you..." I thought, regarding my boys-- and even myself-- in the sense that all of us should be able to learn certain "manly" skills

Now, this is not some gender equality manifesto, because really, I believe there are ways men and women really are different. But it might be a learning manifesto. That is, I think Heinlein is right: there are certain things human beings should be able to do, and why not add "hang a shelf" to that list?

My grandpa
Habits form in families as well as individuals. My dad was always the one who did the hanging, the painting, the assembling, the driving on trips... Once, on a trip to Washington, D.C., my husband asked me to drive. I'm tired, he added. I looked at him, puzzled. What was he asking? Driving was the man's job. But why? Did I not know how to drive? So why not?

It's not that we all have to be good at everything. Or that we shouldn't rely on each other. But, sometimes certain torches need to be passed so that I can do some of the things my mom or dad always did when they're not around anymore.

My aunt (again)
"Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can”
said Methodist minister John Wesley in his day.

The thing is, you--and I-- can do more good the more we know how to do. 

That actually isn't to say anything against specialization. I do happen to believe that specializing in something is a good thing... that is why I spend my free time writing blog posts instead of building tables. I happen to be better at this. And yet, I can also do laundry, make a basic soup, drive a car, clean a toilet, and play Go Fish (but don't ask me to play euchre).

In seventh grade, I was scolded by a home economics teacher (yes, that really was a class we had) for not being able to thread a bobbin in a sewing machine, even after I was shown several times. And yet, in tech ed., I could drill a mean hole with the drill press. I guess I'm just more of a man in that way. 

A photo from my uncle's photojournalism days
My hope for my children is that they will be able to thread a bobbin and drill a hole. My hope is that, whatever their "specialty", it will not limit the skills they have as men, or as Americans, or as people living in this century. 

I want my children to be able to navigate a G.P.S. and an M.A.P.; to work an iPad and a pressure canner; to change their oil and their loads of laundry; to knit together a computer program and a scarf. 

There are trade-offs, I suppose, in all things. Will I make them sacrifice hours of practice at doing something they love and/or are good at just to learn calligraphy or stenography or some dead language? 

Eh, probably not. 

My aunt in college
But I don't want the whole of their existence to be pressing buttons and swiping cards. 

I want to teach them as many things as I can so that they can do good in many different ways in many different places for many different people.

I want them to be able to sweep their own floor and not have to rely on some iAutomatic device to do it for them. 

I want them to be human beings, not machines.  

My oldest son after his birth
"Teach your children well..." instructed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Sometimes to teach them well, I have to learn something myself. 

So here's to threading that bobbin and drilling that hole in the wall.


Dear Uncle J., I stole most of these photos from your FB page. Thanks and I hope you don't mind. :)

1 comment:

  1. While I definitely appreciate the content of this post, I am even more struck by how well you weave together these ideas with the written word. Keep writing Michelle Louise.