17 August 2007

Growing up inspired

Perhaps I had the ideal childhood. I do not know. All I can tell you is that I was surrounded by a collection of caring adults that provided discipline, guidance and inspiration; adults that encouraged me to discover who and what I was. I could, and in fact, should do the unexpected and rare things that I was inspired to do. My childhood was one of empowerment – power and ability.

I was given the power of knowledge – the knowledge of how to fix things, make things, do things for myself, by myself. I was shown that I had a potential given by grace, and that I had a responsibility, perhaps even a duty, to develop it to its fullest, to fearlessly explore my self. I have not always lived up to that responsibility, but I try...

For as long as I can remember we had motorcycles. My father and mother rode together and sometimes took extended trips with my aunts and uncle. One of my aunts owned, rode and fixed her own motorcycle.

I think I was four or five when I first rode with my father, sitting in front of him on the motorcycle while he carefully rode along. It was not too long after that that I started riding a motorcycle on my own – a step-through Yamaha 50cc similar to the scooters that are popular today. I rode in our large backyard and on trails in the wooded areas of our rural neighborhood.

During much of my childhood my father worked out of town and was gone during the week. Because he was only home on weekends it meant that my siblings and I quickly learned to maintain our own motorcycles, and later our cars. He was usually too busy with other projects when he was home to fix our motorcycles as swiftly as we wanted. As children we acquired mechanical and technical skills that far exceeded those of our age-mates.

Initially, when my father worked on various projects around the house I was the one that helped. My brother, the next one in line, is 16 months younger than I am; when I was four or five and ready to help, he was only two or three and far too young to do much. I helped with all sorts of projects - carpentry and remodeling, plumbing and electrical, fencing and landscaping, auto repair and auto bodywork. I was using power-tools, levels, t-squares, hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers while in grade school. One of my earliest memories is tactile in nature. I remember the pleasant feeling of automotive grease on my fingers. It was both gritty and slippery and the contradiction fascinated me. I think that being able to legitimately get quite dirty was intriguing also. I can remember purposely getting dirtier than necessary as I ran back and forth between the tool rack and my father’s outstretched hand as he worked under whatever car needed fixing.

Working with my father taught me how to follow directions. He taught me how to bracket my choices with alternatives, to plan for exigency; if I was not sure if the nut, bolt or wrench was the correct one, I would also take him ones that were the next sizes smaller and larger. He taught me how to plan ahead, how to deduce the next step. From him I learned how to improvise and find creative solutions to problems.

From my mother I learned independence and strength. Since my father was not home most of the time, I learned how to handle emergencies, how to stay level-headed in a crisis and to be reliable and competent. She showed me how to cook and bake; we raised some of our own food, canning and preserving it ourselves. She taught me how to sew and embroider; she made most of our clothing.

My father is a patient man that never begrudged us an explanation of not only the how of what we were doing, but also the why behind it. He demonstrated daily that only reasonable behavior would be accepted, but what he determined reasonable was solely taught with kindness and honesty and responsibility. I did not have to wear skirts and lace and behave in a “feminine” manner, but I did have to do what I said I would do, not cheat or lie, and treat everyone as I wanted them to treat me.

My mother is a playful, artistic person who, by her very nature, teaches kindness, acceptance and gentleness. As children and young adults, she encouraged us to explore ourselves and the world around us with abandon, never placing unnecessary limits on us. We were encouraged to discipline ourselves and recognize that work, any work, could be tolerable, and even pleasant if we chose to make it so; the right attitude would be instrumental in finding and keeping the mental balance that makes life meaningful.

Although the work they do is gender segregated – my mother does not fix cars and my father does not cook and bake – they instilled in me a belief that I could do whatever I set out to do. We were not allowed to say “I cannot” until we had made a serious effort to do the task at hand. I grew up knowing that I did not have to accept the limits others wanted to place on me. I did not have to fit anyone’s expectations of being female. I could do whatever I chose to do in the manner I chose to do it and when confronted with the walls that others built up to confine me, it was within my rights to find ways around them, it was in fact, expected of me that I find ways to dismantle the walls. Although it is not a word that my parents would use to describe themselves, I suppose my family was revolutionary. This was in a time when women’s liberation and feminism were not yet part of mainstream vocabulary. They gave me the confidence to tackle many tasks and jobs that I might not have had the self-assurance to take on if I had not had the experiences that I had as a child.

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