Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned from My Parents

Germany, early 1960s
This was my David Letterman style speech for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.
10. Remember that beauty grows from the inside. When I was born with a cleft lip and palate, my parents did not blink: they counted their blessings that my birth defects could be repaired.

9. Do not let gender or circumstances get in the way of pursuing your dreams. Dad worked hard so Mom could stay home, but then she earned her master’s and went to work as a mental health therapist. We were taught we could grow up to be anybody we wanted.

8. Pursue education. Mom and Dad both started out as teachers, and between them, they have two bachelor’s and three master’s degrees. They helped all of us in our college studies.

7. Do not put your own needs aside for your children. My parents loved to play pinochle with friends. We’d be put to bed at another family’s house, only to go home around 3:00 a.m. I didn’t like the waking up part, but it was better than having a babysitter. We had a lot of babysitters over the years. But the one who called us brats? Mom never called her again.

6. Travel: it makes the world smaller. Even though we did not realize it, Mom & Dad instilled us with a love of travel. In 1986, I left for Japan, and a week later Nadine left for China. They supported our desires to see the world and later saw those countries’ wonders through their own eyes.

5. Resolve disagreements and don’t let them fester. Mike and David learned early on that our family talks things out. Sometimes it’s painful and takes awhile…but after we talk about things, we can move on. And even when we are not having disagreements, we talk a lot.

4. Don’t let money get in the way of having fun. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but that never stopped us from having great adventures. We traveled around the country by car, sleeping in tents. In 1981, we took a six-week trip across country, staying with friends and relatives and camping. We survived record rainfall—in our tents. We didn’t need a fortune to experience the wonders of the country. And this was before portable DVD players! That trip was the high point of my childhood.

3. Teach your children the value of earning something rather than having it given to you. I worked through my college years and shared the financial burden. When Mike and I decided to get married, we paid for the wedding ourselves. My parents have lent all of us money, but we always try to pay it back.

2. Surround yourself with a loving community. My parents’ marriage has endured many crises—these are just a few:

• 1964: I was born with three birth defects and had multiple surgeries and hospital stays throughout my childhood.

• 1980: Stephen fell out of a tree, 40 feet to the ground, after touching an electric wire, and had third degree burns on his hands and feet from the electricity that traveled from his hand and exited out his Nike shoe. He received painful skin grafts and shared a room on the Emanuel burn unit with a victim from the Mt. St. Helens explosion.

• Early 1990s: Dad’s serious back infection incapacitated him for months, and could have been fatal were it not finally treated effectively.

• 1996: Christopher was born at 24 weeks gestation and teetered between life and death for 17 weeks in the NICU.

• 2003: Nadine was on bedrest with the twins while experiencing premature labor for weeks. Fortunately, she made it to full term.

Over and over again, our family has found that community can lift you up when you feel like your world is in crisis.

And finally, number 1. Say “I love you” every day. We never doubted, for one second, that our parents not only loved us…they loved each other completely.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you!

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