Taking Emily to college a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but mentally check off all of the life lessons I was sure I’d taught her in her eighteen years of living with us at home. Did she know not to put a grease fire out with water? Had I shown her how serious I was about safeguarding your drink at a party? What about identity theft scams? Did she know not to mix ammonia and bleach cleaning products? I couldn’t be certain that we’d covered all the basics of everyday life and I knew that I didn’t have time in our remaining car ride to cover them all, even if I could remember what they all were.
I wasn’t overly worried about not telling her everything—her generation grew up with Google and YouTube, after all. But it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me that a lot of things I have learned in life didn’t necessarily come from my own mom. Not to minimize my mom’s influence on my life, but I realized that over the years, many women (and men) have served as teachers in my life. By absorbing their life lessons, intentionally taught or not, they have all helped develop and shape my outlook on life. The person I am today is a product of all those “shes” in me.
I’m really hoping that Emily’s life is full of people who step up for some of those practical lessons in a role that parents can’t always fill. There are times that I think I’ve neglected to teach her some of the most basic of things—like in her first few days at school she asked me where to buy postage stamps. (Apparently, we never covered that lesson.) If I skipped the postage stamp lesson, I have most certainly glossed over topics like refilling your windshield washer fluid and choosing produce at the grocery store, so I hope that she is never afraid to reach out and ask others. I remember several years ago I felt really stupid asking my mother-in-law about hospital corners when making a bed, but I asked her anyway. Growing up, as long as the bed covers were pulled up and not rumpled, my bed was considered “made”. But my mother-in-law had been in nursing school, and “official hospital corner bed-making” was part of her curriculum, so I asked her about it, and she patiently showed me. Now, just about every time I make the bed I think of that lesson, and the non-judgmental kindness of the woman who didn’t mind taking the time to teach me.
Lessons that go above and beyond have stayed with me a lot longer than others could possibly imagine, too. When I was about six years old, my mom demonstrated to me a tooth brushing lesson that I’ll never forget. I was the kid that would wet her toothbrush so it looked like I brushed my teeth because I was too lazy to actually brush. And I had the cavities to show it, too. I don’t know if Mom was just tired of having to take me to the dentist or listening to me complain about Novocain shots, but one day she took me into their master bathroom and got out an old comb and toothbrush. She demonstrated in dramatic fashion the best way to brush. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that my teeth brushing habits must really be important to her. I remember how it made me feel important to her, too.
Some of the best kind of mentoring can take place when someone lives in such a way people emulate their ways. People who walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk. I know of many women who have been a blessing to me and probably don’t even realize it. Women who have lived their lives modeling graciousness, reaching out to those in need with a heart for helping others. Women who aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes, but use the lessons they learned in making those mistakes as a way to guide others into self-reflective decision making instead of wallowing in self-pity and regret.
Speaking of role models, I need to mention I’ve picked up on some “what not to do” teachings, too. Generally unintentional, not necessarily pleasant, these lessons in life are passed on by the person who embodies character traits that make others want to turn 180 degrees away from them. As distasteful as some of those encounters can be, I long for my children to see them for what they are—a valuable lesson on how not to conduct themselves, which can be as powerful of life lesson as a deliberate teaching. Instead of feeling wronged, I hope they turn those experiences into becoming strong, resilient people who gain the ability to persevere through adversity.
When I think back over my years being around young people as a parent, Girl Scout leader and coach, I have had the opportunity to be someone else’s child’s “she”. In those roles over the years, I became extremely self-aware of how my attitude and the way I’ve handled situations and people is perceived by the casual and not-so-casual observer. I’ve always hoped that, even if they don’t remember my name, something I’ve said or done in our time together in some small way will draw up to the surface of who they become in a positive way. The food coloring in the water to someone’s carnation. I am forever grateful for those who have been that to my children—their friends’ parents, coaches, youth leaders, and teachers who took the time to be a role model and mentor to them.
I will always appreciate those in my life who, whether they knew it or not, shared moments and insight with me that helped to shape who I am today. To the women who shared cookie-baking secrets, demonstrated grace during crisis and lived lives that showed others they truly cared, thank you. I hope to be able to pay your kindness forward to someone else. And to those whose lessons were not in kindness, I owe you thanks as well. Without the negative interactions we’ve had, I may not be able to see the balance in life and work through it.
It’s been a little over a month since Emily stepped out from the comforts of living at home with Mom and Dad into college life. She’s not encountered any grease fires or had cleaning catastrophes that I’ve been told about, so I’m hoping those skipped lessons have been averted or do not become Mission Critical any time soon. I’m not positive on how she goes about making her bed on the top bunk, but my guess is hospital corners are not a major concern that she has. Thankfully, it sounds like she’s settling into college with some great shes to help her out. But now that I think about it, she’s not mailed a letter to dear old Mom and Dad yet, so about those postage stamps…