On St. Patrick’s Day I wrote about my late grandfather, and I received a lot of lovely comments. One comment was from my great-uncle Jackie, and in part it read, “so well written.” I had to laugh. I’ve heard that comment, along with its partner, “so well spoken” on many occasions. And my response is always the same: I was raised by teachers.
From a very young age my sister and I were sent to my grandparents for the summer. My Mommom and Daddad were both teachers from Pennsylvania, and they had a cabin in Maine, where we stayed. No TV or indoor plumbing, “bored” was the ultimate four-letter-word, and nothing around but water and forest and blueberry fields. It was a lot like heaven.
All my grandparents’ friends who came to stay were teachers. The nuns and priests who came to stay were often teachers, too. Half the relatives were teachers, and my grandparents’ best friends who owned the cabin next door? Teachers. My sister and I might not have realized it at the time, but we had stumbled into the best education ever. There are several kinds of teachers, and not all are so great, are they? But my grandparents adored teaching, and those who gathered around them shared that feeling, and so we had the best kind of teachers in Maine. Almost everything we did was greeted with encouragement and amused patience, every discovery was discussed enthusiastically.
The best science lesson I ever recieved was from a visiting highschool biology teacher. We kids had found and brought home a bunch of baby snappers, and she, completely in love with each of the creatures, explained our find to us. Their life cycle, their diet, their range, everything. In the end, we notched the edges of their shells and returned them to where we had found them. Thirty years later, I still look for snappers with unequal notches on their shells.
Impromptu art lessons, discussions of books, encouragement to write and put on a play; this was standard on any given day. We were egged on by those who were professionals at egging on.
There was Mary Lovall, English. Jim Lammey, Industrial Arts. Mary Lammey, Social Studies. Jim Lovall, Social Studies. Garland Hoover, sweet-but-scary highschool principal. Ora Hoover, Math. My Daddad, teacher-turned-librarian and my Mommom, an art teacher. We were so lucky.
But the effects of being surrounded by teachers lasted longer than childhood. Teachers spend their days telling kids that they CAN. There are no limits, and there is nothing that can’t be accomplished with effort and brainpower. And they usually apply this thinking to their own lives, and often out of necessity. Teachers’ salaries make it necessary for them to be their own painters, their own repairmen, their own seamstresses, and my sister and I had a front row seat for that show. We’ve grown to be women who think there is no project we can’t tackle, and nothing we can’t teach ourselves and accomplish, for better or worse.
While this attitude has led us to be confident in our abilities and accomplish some lovely things, perhaps there are times when it is best to throw one’s hands up. While I’ve never heard a teacher say, “You know, you should just give up. Throw it in because there is NO WAY you can do it,” not every challenge needs to be met. In that way being surrounded by teachers can have its downside, too.
I’m sure I’m not the only child of teachers who just won’t give up, even when it’s obvious I should. While you can, perhaps you should not dethatch and reseed your 1/3 of an acre yard all by yourself whilst battling a stomach virus (and that is why my best friend calls me Rocky the Rockhead). My sister’s husband, the son of a teacher, once said that hiring a cleaning person to come in every two weeks “was like admitting defeat.” That’s silly, but I know just what he means. If I can, then I should. Gentle on myself had been hard-learned, largely because the voice in the back of my head is saying, “You can do it!”
I wouldn’t trade those years for anything, though. They instilled in us a love of learning and an insatiable curiosity I’ve noticed most others don’t share, and I feel sad for those people. Perhaps I do push myself too hard, and it doesn’t always end particularly well, but I wouldn’t swap that out for the feeling of being incapable, any day. I’d rather be talked out of laying a houseful of hardwood floors than feel that it wasn’t within my ability to do so in the first place.
Because I totally could have done that, you know.