Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Look Back

Lately I've been surrounded by crying babies and infants. They seem to be everywhere -- in the grocery store, at Walmart, in the next booth at my favorite restaurant. Where are the parents? What has happened to the parents of old, the ones who paid attention to their kids? Parents used to know what the kids were doing and how to rein them in when necessary.

Perhaps I have trouble tolerating unruly children because my own childhood was considerably more structured. I was raised in a loving household where children had freedom accompanied by certain limitations.

My mother was the caring parent, always there with words of comfort and a smile. But it was my father who set the rules of behavior.

My father was a wonderful man who kept the bills paid, demonstrated a strong work ethic and made us all feel safe and secure. He had many admirable qualities including warmth and humor. But my father was a no-nonsense individual who did not tolerate foolishness. That attitude set the parameters for everyone in our household. My father's talent was that he could speak volumes without uttering a word. He had a "look" that said, "Stop and shape up now." When he flashed that look, whether at the dinner table or in public, he didn't have to say or do anything else. That was it.

When I became an elementary school teacher, I had to develop a similar expression of my own to survive in the classroom. Fellow teachers used to joke about having their "stern" face or "staring daggers" at students. It was reassuring to know that merely looking at someone can make a strong impact with minimal effort. Occasionally, it could turn children into stone instantly.

Such a technique should not be lost in today's high tech world.

In recent decades, the general population has become overly concerned with being "politically correct." The result is that adults have lost control. No one dares to speak out -- even to their own children -- when a little control could work wonders.

Several years ago I was working in Washington, DC. I often worked l-o-n-g hours most of the time, with an hour commute in each direction just to add to the enjoyment. (In hindsight, it all made no sense but that is another story.) I remember one night when I was asked to "stay late" and assist with a project. I agreed -- after all, this time they actually ASKED me first. After everyone else had left, I was to remain in my office until I was contacted by the partners. Finally, at about 7:30, I walked into the conference room where they were working.

The partner who asked me to stay looked up and smiled. "Yes?"

"I was wondering if the project you had is ready for me to begin," I asked quietly.

"Oh, yes. We were going to have you go and get our dinner." He flashed another smile.

I said nothing in response but must have resurrected my teacher's face.

"Oh, dear." The partner said. "I can see by your face that perhaps this was something of an intrusion." He quickly dismissed me for the evening. The group must have made other dinner arrangements. I was never again asked to run such stupid errands.

Sometimes a face should be allowed to show what it is really thinking.

Attention today's parents: Try this next time your child is running amok in Walmart. You might be surprised to see how easily it can work.

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