Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back-to-school lessons shape the lives of children


My back-to-school memory triggers—the smell of chalk dust, the clang of the big bell in the school belfry, and the sight of wooden desks attached to each other with metal rails along the floor—will not be my grandchildren’s’ triggers.  They will remember the smell of whiteboard markers, the sound of electronic buzzers and PA systems, and metal desks, some with computers on top.

Everything is different. But I hope they learn some lessons, either in school or in life, that are the same: That they grow by doing the most challenging jobs; that mistakes are part of success, and that there’s no place like the dinner table at home.

My mom said: “Life is hard, but you can do hard things.”

D. Todd Christofferson, noted attorney and church leader, tells of a cold late winter day when he was 12 years old. His father was out of town, and the family’s ewes started birthing. His grandfather left work, picked Todd up from school, showed him how to deliver a lamb and then returned to work, leaving him to deliver 12 more lambs. 

He says, “Doing this difficult job was the biggest self-esteem builder I ever had—far more meaningful than hearing ‘You’re such a great guy,’ from adults in my life.”  

Here’s another lesson I hope the grandkids learn—“Work hard, expect that you’ll make mistakes, and keep working.”

During the women’s gymnastics at the 2012 Olympics, the commentators hyped some competitors so much that those watching expected perfection.

Gabby Douglas had won gold a couple of days before—then she made a misstep on the balance beam.  Afterward, as the commentator fell on his sword, Gabby was nonchalant.  She’s made a mistake, and the world was still turning.  A wise parent or coach had taught this gracious young lady how to handle both flawless performances and boggled ones with gratitude for the opportunity to compete. 

Finally, just as Dorothy of Oz learned, there’s no place like home—especially when the family eats together.  Marion Cunningham, a cookbook author who died recently at the age of 90, said, “No one is cooking at home anymore, so we are losing all the wonderful lessons we learn at the dinner table.”

“Too many families seldom sit down together; it’s gobble and go,” she wrote, “eating food on the run, reheating it in relays in the microwave as one dashes off to a committee meeting, another to basketball practice. As a result we are losing an important value.

“Food is more than fodder. It is an act of giving and receiving because the experience at table is a communal sharing; talk begins to flow, feelings are expressed, and a sense of well-being takes over.”

My husband and I raised five children, and meetings, sports, and school activities competed with the family dinner hour. We fought to eat together as often as our schedules allowed, because, as Ms. Cunningham said: “The table is the place where you learn who you are and where you came from.”

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