Categories
inspiration parenting relationships

Parenting: Instructions Not Included


Young couple with father who is too busy to be a parent.

I had a good childhood compared to what kids are going through these days in a complex, ultra-competitive world. There was one weird thing about my upbringing, however, that I’ll always remember. I feel it bears mentioning because it’s something that parents can easily forget, even though it’s so obvious.  I’m talking about the simple truth that children aren’t born with an a priori knowledge about the way things are in this world.

My father, Morton, was a good one as fathers go. He was a good provider, a mensch in every sense of the word. But I swear he had the idea that kids were born with a full set of instructions enclosed. Like a model plane. I don’t know how he acquired this orientation. Maybe he forgot what it was like to be a kid. He once told me his parents were “teachers.” Then why wasn’t he like them?

Morton grew up to become a super-busy entrepreneur with the responsibility of two growing businesses on his shoulders. There wasn’t much left of him when he came home after the pressures of a twelve hour day at the office. Really, though, Morton needed to make more time and save more energy to be a father. It seemed like he just wanted us to be around him and grow up straight and tall, all by ourselves.

Morton fully grasped the idea that things don’t happen by themselves. He built two businesses into thriving, large scale companies. Why, then, did he think that children can grow up properly without constant attention? My father died eleven years ago, so the answer will forever remain a mystery.

I imagine most parents are great teachers. They know how much fun it is to teach kids something new. Children love to be taught about mostly anything, especially by a caring parent in a gentle manner. I suppose, therefore, this article is intended for my Dad and the few high achieving, constantly busy parents who have missed out on the joys of bringing up a child.

I started saying things to my daughter when she was only two years old. I knew she wasn’t going to fully understand these things until later in life. Something told me to start pouring the positive instructions in as soon as she began to speak in full sentences. One of the most important things I feel she heard from me early on was this: “You can do anything good you put your mind to.”

I don’t think anything in the world can replace positive, enabling statements like this one spoken at an early stage in a child’s development.  Simple statements like, “You’re so good,” “You are beautiful,” “You can do that,” and “Good job,” can make a huge difference in a child’s motivation, achievement, and sense of well being as an adult.

It doesn’t take much time to say something positive to your child every day. Keep it simple and keep it literal.  Young children don’t barricade their minds.  Whatever you say to them goes straight into their subconscious. If you have to correct your child, do it in a way that engages their cooperation.

From early on, I spoke to my daughter as I would to an adult, always respecting her feelings and intelligence.  To be honest, it wasn’t that hard because my daughter is an only child, and she had good qualities to begin with (thanks mostly to my wife’s DNA). We are fortunate that our daughter began life with good characteristics. Most children do. Obviously, it takes more than good ingredients to make a happy and successful adult. It takes good bakers (parents) to make the cake.

Today, my daughter is happy, enthusiastic, and married to a great guy. She is a successful Assistant State Attorney. To extend the clichéd metaphor; “the proof is in the pudding.”

Looking back on my life, I ask myself: “What have you done that is truly important and beneficial to this world. I have to say my greatest contribution, by far, is my daughter.

David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing.

 

Categories
reflections

Miss Crisson


The name Miss Crisson fit her. Words come to mind, like “crisp,” “sharp,” “cross,” and “criticism.” I remember a six-foot tall, middle-aged woman with regular, Germanic features and wide, hazel eyes peering from behind big-rimmed glasses supported by a clunky plastic frame.

She wore an expression of perennial disappointment punctuated by frequent, angry outbursts. I thought then her mood was the direct result of our consistently delinquent behavior — the student body of Miss Crisson’s fifth grade class. Now I think there may have been other factors involved.

Miss Crisson did not carry her statuesque figure gracefully. Instead, she stood in an ungainly posture in front of the class, arms crossed, daring anyone to misbehave. She never seemed to feel comfortable inside her own skin, or perhaps the small print, cotton dresses she wore like uniforms were all a half size too small.

Looking back, I imagine men might have considered her sexy if she had dressed in a more colorful, modern style. Regular trips to the beauty parlor would have helped too. But she had no use for fashionable clothes or fixing herself up. Her thinning hair drooped in unenthusiastic curls. The humidity in the spring and early summer made the hair from the buns she wore march in a column down her neck like AWOL soldiers.

I recall her first name with great difficulty: It was, or is Doris. Is she still alive as we speak? She took great pains to keep us at a distance, in our place. Miss Crisson the teacher, the person in charge, we the students, there to obey.

It was not so much the things she did that I remember. It was rather the things she didn’t do. She never, for instance, sat on a chair in front of the class with her legs crossed, or in a more casual moment, on the side of her desk. She always stood, implacably, a permanent fixture in front of the class. She sat at her desk only during study periods, often holding her head while reading from her lesson plan or papers that looked to be terribly important. We spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, with Miss Crisson, surely enough time to get to know someone well, at least enough time for her guard to fall occasionally. Yet, I can’t recall any informal moments with Miss Crisson, never the spontaneous joke or appreciative laugh from the student audience.

She never spoke of children or relatives. I never learned a thing about her personal life after spending a year in her classroom. Did she spend her childhood years in a middle class tract home at the mercy of bible-toting, God-fearing parents? Did her classmates taunt her for being too tall? As a teenager, did she have many boyfriends? Did she ever have a boyfriend? Did she eat dinner at home alone every night in a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers, her hair liberated from the customary bun, hanging in loopy strands? Did she sometimes wake up to an alarm buzzing from the bedroom, slumped on a sofa in front of the television?

She came to class every day, in the full bloom of womanhood, apparently without suitors or romantic prospects of any kind, already resigned to premature spinsterhood. Perhaps Miss Crisson was a lesbian, stuck in the unenlightened nineteen fifties, a prisoner of her strict upbringing, afraid to explore her sexuality, without compassion for herself or anyone else. Her sharp rebukes for the slightest infringement of class decorum were, I realize now, a sign of frustration, the invisible weights Miss Crisson carried on her broad shoulders. We didn’t see those weights because children see only with their hearts. They respond to kindness, humor, patience and love. They don’t understand why an adult would possibly want to act any other way.