The poet Ovid wrote, “Nothing is stronger than habit.” My parents believed strongly in forming good habits early in life. Parental example is a powerful teaching tool. I was reminded of this when I read a newsletter from one of my language organizations. We were fortunate to have a mother who stayed at home. Our bedtime in Massachusetts was early by today’s standards: 6:30 PM. We had to get up early enough to have our bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and walk one mile to the bus stop. Our bus ride was 45 minutes one way. When we were older and in the upper grades in school, bedtime was later. I recall my father telling me when I started high school that I determined my own bedtime based on how much homework I had. If I stayed up until 10:30 PM, I was sometimes tired the next day at school. My father woke me up at 5 AM daily to practice piano one hour before walking to church and playing the organ daily at 6:30 AM. He even fashioned a small piece of wood to wedge between the piano pedals to hold down the middle pedal which dampened the sound of the keys. My other sisters had to take turns practicing one hour of piano after school. Three other sisters practiced on one of our two pianos. Later, my sister Sheila began violin lessons and had to add that practice as well. Once per week we drove to piano lessons. We also had choir rehearsals once weekly.
Summers were an adventure with music practice in our house. I normally practiced four hours, sometimes longer or less depending upon inclination and weather outside beckoning me. We all had longer hours to practice music in the summers. 4-H projects were also the norm: cooking, sewing, safety, first-aid and more. Besides my job as the church organist which was a daily habit and three times on Sunday and all the funerals and weddings, I babysat in the neighborhood or tended lawns and gardens of neighbors who went on vacation. The going rate for babysitting was 50 cents per hour.
Later in life, my mother wondered aloud to me about our childhood and whether I thought it had been too regimented. Life seemed normal to me. I don’t recall ever feeling stressed about school, church, outside activities, etc. It was expected of us, and I simply did whatever my task was. Dinner was on the table when my father returned home from work. I recall my mother spending hours cleaning the house, doing laundry, shopping for food and cooking and baking.
In retrospect, what a wonderful gift my parents gave us. It taught me to live a purposeful and orderly life. I learned to be organized, methodical, industrious and diligent in everything I did. What a marvelous preparation for college, my study abroad and my teaching career. I learned the value of doing something right and to be thorough. That sometimes meant extra hours of work for a project or term paper.
As an educator, I interacted with all kinds of students and parents. Some taught their children to be independent, disciplined and organized. They did not “do” homework and projects for their children. They had high expectations for their offspring. The only thing I recall being told about studies and school/college was to do my best. Today I am grateful for my parents and childhood.
Special thanks to Sally Rose, my niece, for some photos from Costa Rica.