I was sitting in the emergency room at Tacoma General reading an article by Joanna Nesbit about raising children to be problem solvers*. Her high school son had gone to study with a friend. She didn’t realize until later that the friend lived more than twenty-five miles away. She was amazed that he carried a debit card, visited a gas station, pumped gas, and found the friend’s house without any help or advice. It seemed to me a trivial episode.
Growing up in the 1950s I was a latch-key kid, although that phrase had not been coined yet. My parents both worked. From first grade I walked from Stanley Elementary to our home on South Ferry at my own pace in whatever pattern I chose for that day. Once home, I did whatever I wanted. I usually made myself a snack and would sometimes get out my dad’s projector and screen and play film cartoons. I would then very carefully restore them as I found them. From the second grade on I had Koko, a Shetland pony that I would saddle up and ride around the vacant land once used for traveling tent shows: Barnum & Bailey, and Oral Roberts. My life was my own until I saw a cowboy program on TV and saw someone whittling. They drew the knife towards them instead of shaving away. I used an old butcher knife. I can still see the scar. My neighbor heard me whimpering when I was unable to stop the flow of blood. When my parents came home I was wearing a large bandage. Other than that, I did pretty much what I wanted and roamed where I wanted to go. I learned how to do things by watching carefully or figuring things out. Our children pretty much followed the same example.
The two oldest joined Junior Achievement and went door to door on their own selling a fire starter product. Our son Del delivered the Morning PI, and when Peg and I left town for a weekend our daughter Andrea taught Del to drive a manual transmission Datsun pickup. He had gone partially deaf from me yelling, “CLUTCH! CLUTCH!” Our youngest went from delivering pizza to being an assistant manager and hiring and marrying a California girl from PLU. All three are happily married, self-reliant and tackle various projects on their own.
My wife, Peggy was the second oldest out of seven. As second in command, she learned to cook and order the little slackers around. She expected the younger children to learn by example, and that carried through to our children as well. Consequently, our children helped around the house and picked up on our expectations. They are reliable and are comfortable making decisions, working, and tackling jobs that others might simply shrug their shoulders at. Getting gas and driving to a friend’s house twenty-five miles away? Give me a break . . . our kids could have done that when they were six . . . maybe five.
*No, I was not sitting in the emergency room waiting for someone to stop the bleeding . . .