Saturday, March 10, 2007

What We Give Them

Last winter, my wife had trouble starting her little Jetta one Saturday afternoon, while trying to take my stepdaughter to her guitar class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. She walked back into the house, thinking she was going to scrap the lesson, but I told her to go back to her car, and I would meet her there. I went to my truck and got out the portable jump-starter I have, and in a couple of minutes, they were off the the Old Town School.

My wife Kim was really impressed with this-- she even blogged about it. I had a good chuckle-- while it was very sweet of her to recognize this, it didn't merit as particularly impressive behavior in my book. Attaching the red clip to the positive terminal and the black clip to some part of the chassis is pretty easy.

Maybe not, though.

We've had a particularly rough winter this year, and Kim continued having trouble with her car starting-- I had to use the jumpstarter again. I knew from experience that it was time to simply replace the battery. One night I ran to Costco, and grabbed a flashlight and tools and replaced the battery. Pulling the red and black plastic protectors off of the battery terminals, I was reminded of a day about 15 years ago.

Back about 15 years ago, when I was rooming with old friend Dobie, I got a call from his brother Larry, who lived not too far from us. He had had trouble with his car starting, and correctly surmised that he needed a new battery. He bought one and connected it, but the car would not start-- in fact, he now could get no electric power at all. He mentioned that he'd had to really bend the connectors to get them on. I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, but found it hard to believe. I hopped in my car and went to his apartment and discovered I had guessed right-- he hadn't removed the plastic covers from the battery posts.

A day or two later, I was recounting this story to my father, who had worked, as a young man, as a union electrician. He was in disbelief-- it seemed like something very elementary to him.

Before he was an electrician, my father worked as an auto mechanic. He retired as a vice-president of a major Chicago bank, but he still can do a lot of his own auto work. Before I ever drove a car I'd helped him do a ton of auto work, such as replace a fuel pump, and various other things. I'd helped him do electrical and plumbing work, and had helped he and my uncle build my uncle's house-- carpentry, putting up drywall, etc. We did these things because we had to-- we couldn't afford to pay someone to do it for us.

When my father was incredulous, I reminded him that Dobie and Larry's father was murdered on the steps of their home when they were young-- 10 or 11 years old. He wasn't around to teach them little things-- like how to connect a car battery.

Fortunately, they were blessed with a strong, loving mother who raised a bunch of children, none of whom got in any serious trouble-- quite an accomplishment when raising a bunch of kids on Chicago's rough south side. Despite their father not being around, she gave them the strength and values it took to get them to motivate themselves to get educated, and to pursue what it was they wanted in life. And they were resourceful enough to get the other things-- or ask a friend for a hand when needed.

I've been following the adventures of one of my favorite bloggers, Anonymous Blogger, aka Macguyver as she renovates her home in the desert while raising three kids on her own. It got me to thinking about what we give our children.

I live in an increasingly gentrified section of Chicago, and observe the parenting that goes on. Overscheduling, "superparenting,"-- it's ridiculous. Kids have "play dates." None of these kids have ever experienced a day of poverty or difficulty. They've never had a moment of unscheduled random fun. They've never helped a parent repair a car or seen a parent sweat rent or bills. These kids have never done without the things they wanted. This is so foreign to the kind of childhood I, and most of the people around me had, and I wonder what kind of adults this is going to produce.

At times, my wife and I have talked about the times we felt alone in the past, raising our kids. I blogged about this a bit last year-- musing that it's funny that some of the direst circumstances were my son's favorite times. She has talked about the times between her divorce from her first husband and marriage to me, and how rough it was at times, financially and emotionally. I remember that my family had occasional financially rough times. My point is that it's made us all appreciate what we have a lot more. I understood what it was for my parents to sacrifice for their kids. I think that our kids are better and stronger for having seen us struggle and succeed. It's occurred to me that the most important things we give our kids as they grow up are not things, but for them to see that problems can be overcome, if you keep the things that help you solve them at hand-- friends, family and your own inner strength.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

We were pretty much turfed out of the house at 9 am and told to come back for supper, when we were kids. But obviously you can't do that any more.
But kids do need time for themselves, to explore, to daydream, to become bored and figure out how to remedy that.

Anonymous said...

Helicopter parents of today piss me off! Give a kid a break, I don't think they have to be in every sport offered and taking every dance class or after school activity known to mankind. I miss the simpler days like when my mother used to lock us out of the house and tell us to come home for dinner...

I won't even get into the time she tied me to a tree....

Erik Donald France said...

I love how this post goes deeper and deeper in, and I couldn't agree more about "the basics" of life. And amen to passing them on to the the next generation whenever possible.

Anon. Blogger said...

OMG, thanks for the link!

It is certainly a fact that we teach far, far more by what we do than by what we say, isn't it?

GETkristiLOVE said...

I agree with you JYen - some of the best experiences I got as a kid was when I was around my parents when things were not perfect.