I love folks who have energy. Not just physical energy, but mental energy, emotional (the good kind) energy, spiritual energy, and creative energy. The mental and creative energies are my favorite.
Mother not only modeled the five energy categories, but she also encouraged, even insisted we engage them depending on where we were in life and what we were doing.
“Always do your best” was a substantial mantra that was oft repeated and insisted. If we did our best, she was satisfied. And she always knew when our finest was not offered. Then, we knew we would be challenged for the next round when we were to do our best. I followed that example in my own parenting and I was amazed at how much responsibility it placed upon the child to learn, grow, and seek the next awaiting adventure or chapter.
If we complained about a situation, we were asked, “What can you do to make it better?” If we presented no solution, the discussion promptly ended. “If you cannot make it better or find other results, stop complaining.” In this, Mother was a rock and expected only positive thinking and positive energy to lead the course. As we got older, she would smile and say, “Stop bitching.”
Since I was 8 ½ and 10 years older than Dena and Destin, I was in college through most of their formative years. I saw them a good deal, but we never really had much in common until they entered high school and college. We grew up in two separate spheres of the family’s one world.
Someone once asked me if Mother would have been “tough” had she not been forced into single parenthood.
Oh, yes! Mother was precise and required much from us. It was also a time when there were expectations for good social manners, polished table manners, politeness, and being responsible for our actions. Mother always smiled. Seldom did she pass a moment when she wasn’t smiling and then, her eyes smiled. When something occurred and there was no smile, we knew the set jaw and pursed lips meant both guns were smoking and we had it coming. Our reprimands were often in the form of a question, “Was this the best way to accomplish this?” or “Where was your brain when you were contemplating this?” or “Did you do your best?”
I will forever be grateful for Mother encouraging our creative energies. She was always doing artwork for our school teachers that were to be used in the classroom. They were painstakingly created and executed, and as her son, it was great to hear the exclamations of appreciation. Mother was extremely organized and everything she performed was meticulous. The same was expected of us – be prepared and be thorough. “Don’t half-ass it,” would be a familiar phrase through our teen years.
We were encouraged to think outside the box, and we did. As a teacher and parent, I had a small taped-up box that students or sons were to kick out of the room when I wanted them to think outside the box. I also kept a larger, knee-high box for them to stand in for a few seconds before stepping out of it. If we ever said, “I would like to try/do…” we were immediately asked, “Have you thought it through?” followed by, “Then get at it.”
And I always will appreciate, “Figure it out!” We knew we could still come to her if we got stuck, but she was not about to think for us. She would coach us but never do it for us.
Dena and I have an entrepreneurial spirit, but it was our baby brother who used his best. When Destin was four years old, he wanted to make some money. Using my old Kool-Aid container, my sister’s playset table and chair, and an empty stationery box for cash, the lad was in business in our side yard facing Ninth Street, selling Kool-Aid and bags of popcorn. Mother supplied the sign and the two ingredients for his casual menu, but the boy was a good businessman.
Within a few days, he had regular customers and was making a lot of money for a four-year-old boy. Richard Merritt, a legendary educator and administrator for many years in Elwood, was probably Destin’s best customer, followed by Grandpa Leroy who cleaned up the hours-old popcorn and finished off the warm Kool-Aid. Before Noon, Mr. Merritt’s red jeep would pull up alongside the Ninth Street curb and he would hop out to ask Destin questions before pulling out a one dollar bill for a cup of Kool-Aid and a bag of popcorn. “Keep the change,” he always said. Destin always got a $.96 tip from Mr. Merritt. Most adults would give him $.50 or $1 and insist he kepy the change.
By middle school, Destin was washing and detailing cars and mowing yards. He may have had a part-time job at a local business, as Dena and I worked throughout high school, but I don’t recall. Destin was his own businessman, and he carried that entrepreneurial spirit with him to the end of his life. While living and teaching in Fowler, he had his own lawn care business which employed only students. He only used the incoming funds for fuel and equipment upkeep. The employees were greatly rewarded and appreciated for their hard work. Three of my sons, each June, were beneficiaries of their uncle’s discipline for hard work and they learned a lot while on the job.
“Write out the story” or “draw what you see in your mind.” As I sit here in my study writing this blog post, I am deeply grateful for those two strictures I frequently heard as a young child. Mother had a brilliant knack for inspiring each of us in our areas of creativity, but she also promoted the “not-as-strong” spots that needed a bit more attention so they would soon be strengths, not weaknesses. That was a huge part of “always do your best.”
Use your energies and make it a great day!