While listening to TED Radio hour, I was inspired. By the way, if you have never hopped on to TED.com, I highly recommend it. TED presents talks, usually 10 minutes or less, from experts in different fields. You can find just about anything that piques your interest. TED: Technology, Entertainment, Design
A wee bit of background on me before I start. I have a Mom, a stepdad who legally became my Dad, and a father (in the biological sense of the word only). My Mom was pretty much raising the three of us on her own until late 1976. I have two brothers: a younger brother with his master's degree in a field related to code and/or IT and an older brother who is a successful attorney. So you see, we kids have done fairly well in a mixed up and often messed up world. A good portion of that credit goes to my parents. We are a product of our environments and our upbringings. My parents did a lot of things right. These are the top five things I learned along the way that helped shape me into who I am now:
1. College wasn't an option. That grabbed your attention, right? College wasn't an option, it was an expectation. A two year school wasn't a choice either: we are talking full on university. Obviously, the three of us took it to heart. Rick has his Doctorate of Jurisprudence, Matt has his Master's degree, and I have graduate hours. What is so amazing about this is that my Dad didn't finish high school but rather received his G.E.D. so that he could serve our country. My Mom didn't graduate from college until I was 20. When we were finishing high school the question posed to us wasn't, "What are your plans?" The question was, "Where are you going to college?" That being said in this digital age and ever changing society, I think much like the Dirty Jobs guy, Mike Rowe, there is a high need for skilled work as well: technicians, welders, etc.
2. Unplug. Ironic as it is, I am saying that turning off devices is one of the best things you can do. When I was in junior high, Pops used to insist that we go outside for fun. The result of this was all sorts of neat things. Matt and I would plop into an inflatable raft with a kite in hand and sail ourselves across our pond (or tank as it is called). Sometimes we would turn it upside down and treat it as a SCUBA diving haven. We built treehouses, played "Spotlight" (which was Hide and Seek in the dark), went camping on our own acreage, played in the rain and learned all about bayou biology. I could go on and on with the countless learning and fun that went on outside. It was almost always unsupervised which I don't think was an error. That being said, we were always on our country acreage or within whistling distance of our Sugarland suburban home. That brings me to the next item.
3. Respect. When Pops (my Dad) was introduced into our lives, we didn't have a significant male figure around regularly. Grandpa and Grandma were seen a few times a year and talked to on the phone weekly but there was no male authoritative figure day in and day out. Pops is a Marine that served in Korea. We learned to answer with "Yes Ma'am and Yes Sir or No Ma'am and No Sir" quite quickly. At the time we thought it felt like it was boot camp but I am glad for it. We were always a whistle away. Pops would place his fingers just right, under his tongue, and blow out a call that could be heard at least ten houses down the block. The dog had a whistle, too, in for which he came back -- different from our own.
4. We are all members of the house, therefore we all contribute. We quickly learned when Mom was single with little or no support, that we had to help. At a young age, I cleaned out litter boxes, baked cakes, and hand washed dishes. After Mom and Pops married, I learned to clean the whole house, do some cooking and started to take care of laundry. Some of this was out of necessity as they both worked and commuted. No matter, it taught us that we all do what we can to help the famiy run smoothly. We kept a garden; this alone could be a numbered "got it right". We tended, tilled, weeded, harvested and helped to cook what we grew. Now with a Zombie Apocolypse possible, I feel better knowing that I can grow food, start to finish.
5. Dinner is eaten TOGETHER in a dining room. Will I ever hear the end of this one? At dinner, and for that matter breakfast on the weekends, the five of us would sit and eat. Sometimes it was quiet but most of the time it was conversation building connectivity WITH EACH OTHER rather than the web. I distinctly recall my older brother, Rick, trying to distract me and chug my milk. I have a very clear memory of finding creative ways to avoid peas. "Take what you want but eat what you take," was a common mantra in our house but so was eating vegetables. (Sigh----for the record I still won't eat green peas or cooked carrots.) In the mornings before school, the three of us kids would eat cereal sitting at the dining room. We were together.
The small family of five that was firmly established in late of 1976 isn't perfect, it's not meant to be. My parents did a lot of things correctly. These top five are keepers that I hope to instill in our sons.
For more on parenting with purpose, I suggest Parent Expectations Relating to Academic Success.