Each of us is filled with numerous tragic, funny, thoughtful, and sad stories that we can share. Sometimes the best stories turn out to be lessons we learn from our families. From these lessons we understand what it means to be connected, to fail, to be compassionate, to love. Lessons From My Parents is a crowd-sourced book, looking for submissions. It will be published by Familius, a company focused on “Helping Families be Happy.” I’m very pleased to have the chance to interview Michele Robbins, the Mater Familius and acquisitions editor, as well as mother to nine children, about the Lessons From My Parents project.
1.What made you decide on creating the Lessons From My Parents crowd-sourced book?
After dropping my son off to work at scout camp for the summer, Christopher and I headed back home around beautiful Bear Lake in northern Utah. I began whining about something my parents had done, and Christopher said, “tell me something your parents did that you liked.” I thought for all of two seconds and shared how my mom always waited up for me. She would be in bed reading a book and I would come home from a date or party, walk into her room and chat. If it was cold, I’d climb right in the covers which were always warm and silky. I treasured those moments. One memory led to another and I couldn’t stop sharing the wonderful things my parents did. As I shared, I realized how I felt more love toward my parents, and I wanted my children to feel this way too. I thought if everyone shared simple lessons they learned from their parents, love in families would grow just a little. This idea grew into the Lessons From My Parents project.
My hope is that people will take a moment to reflect on lessons they have learned from their parents which have influenced their life for good. I believe that as a child (even one with children and grand children of their own) does this, love deepens between the generations. The book that comes out of all this sharing will be a collection of real life people who did something, often something they thought was small, that made an huge impact in the life of a child. It will be a great resource for ideas that work in parenting, as well as inspiration for anyone who has a minute to read a short story.
2.What lessons do you reflect on from your own parents?
I’ll let you read about it in the book! I will say that making choices, simple every day choices, is part of my story and that my mother refused to ever help me decide on anything.
3.You are raising a remarkably unique family. What lessons do you hope that your children will learn from you?
Above all I hope they will learn love and kindness. If a person understands how to love another and treat others with kindness, so many lives will be impacted for good. I’m hoping they learn this lesson by tomorrow afternoon so we can have some peace around here!
4.What types of lesson submissions have you received? Are they mostly positive, tragic, or mixed?
I have been amazed at the beautiful lessons that people have shared. I have teared up over and over as I have read about simple things like gratitude, work, love, sharing time, and making memories. Though the contributions are mostly positive there are tragic stories as well. I have been inspired to see the positive lessons that come out of tragic events. Hope is a thread in many of these stories. I have to say also that I am very grateful that people have trusted me with their stories; I feel they have trusted me with their hearts.
5.Why should someone submit a lesson?
As we share stories of family our family bonds are made stronger. When we take time to reflect, write, and share I believe a little magic happens. And that magic becomes a book this Christmas. Imagine sharing that as a gift not only for your family but for but people all around the world.
The book Lessons From my Parents will be available this Christmas as an ebook, and in print, in the spring 2013. Submissions are accepted through October 31.
Thank you for your time Michelle. I can’t wait to open up that book, and just savor the stories. For those of you stopping by Today’s Mama today, please consider sharing one of your stories. I love how the Lessons From My Parents project began when Michelle’s husband Christopher asked her to think of something good. From that simple request, a flood gate was opened, and a movement was born.
In case you’d like to get a feel for some lessons, below is a submission from Walnut Creek, Calif., and an excerpt form a lesson submitted from Lima, Peru. Enjoy!
Life Is Not Something You Measure in Cups and Teaspoons
The summer after I graduated from college, I was jobless and lying around at my parent’s house pondering my existence in the world. My grandma, Della, called me and told me to come see her. Della and Don Corleone shared this sort of control over people. When Della told you to do something you didn’t argue. Della had been sick, and she needed help, it made sense for me to go. I was glad for the chance to escape since I hadn’t a clue what to do with the degree or my life. I was on the plane the next day heading for Pueblo, Colorado.
I wasn’t prepared for the woman who awaited me at the airport. She had lost weight and looked older than her sixty-five years.
“I am dying you know,” she said after we hugged.
“We’re all dying,” I replied. In my family, the women are the backbone. Weakness of any kind in the girls is considered one of the deadly sins.
Della wasn’t exactly cover material for Redbook. She was definitely not a blue rinse, Bloomingdales sort of lady—she clipped coupons, a scarred survivor of the Depression and was prone to hoarding cans of SPAM. When the grey started weaving its way into her thick head of hair she opted for Lady Clairol’s Cherry Silver. She gave me a couple of days to enjoy our time together before we hit the Dialysis Center and visited with her Doctor. Our meeting with him set the tone for the next couple of weeks.
“Your kidneys are failing, and dialysis is no longer a viable option.” Dr. Mong was matter of fact. “Mrs. Ortega, there is little we can do for you at this point. I suggest you tidy up your affairs and make final arrangements. Is there a Mr. Ortega? I’ve seen a couple of gentlemen come and go during your treatments, but I wasn’t sure if one was a Mister.”
“There hasn’t been a Mister for quite some time, but there have been several SOB’s since Mr. Ortega left.” Still smiling, Della continued, “How much time is left on my limited warranty?”
“When is my time up? It can’t be that hard a question to answer. Is it hours, days, or weeks? Is the answer somewhere in those papers you are looking at?”
“Mrs. Ortega…” He paused for several seconds before lifting his eyes from Della’s chart. “It’s difficult to put an exact date on your warranty, but I suggest you gather your family and take care of any unfinished business. It’s a matter of weeks.”
“Thank you, Dr. Mong. Come on Hijta, let’s go to Passkey’s Bar and have a cold beer, maybe some lunch, make some plans, and celebrate.”
“Thanks, Dr. Mong. OK Grandma, lunch it is.”
Over the course of the next week, the rest of the family flew in and took care of the final arrangements. I was at her side for whatever she needed. It was only fitting since she had always been there for me over the years. I had one more lesson to learn she told me the last night we were together.
“I haven’t given you my recipe for green chili stew,” she said. I knew how to make it, had for years. I spent too many hours at her heels in the kitchen while growing up not to have learned how to make it. Since we were snuggling on her bed, I didn’t argue.
Her shunted arms pulled me in tight. The Este Lauder Youth Dew perfume she was so fond of wearing wasn’t strong enough to mask the smell of illness, which clings to the body once death takes hold. We lay intertwined for a long while. She drifted in and out. I hadn’t had to confront death before nor was I sure what I was going to do without Della. She was always there with an answer, even before I knew the question.
“Hijta, I want to tell you how to make Green Chili Stew because you won’t find this recipe in Betty Crocker.”
“You need some pork, buy the cheap cut, pork shoulder is best and then cut it into bite-size pieces, fresh or canned tomatoes, and only use fresh roasted green chilies and jalapeños, chopped onions, fresh chopped garlic.” Then she explained how to cook it, “First you have to brown the pork, after it’s browned, smother it with flour, and brown that too.” She was specific with the ingredients, but vague with the measurements and the time required per task.
“I won’t be here to help you along Hijta. Life is not something you can measure out in cups and teaspoons. Remember this, and you will get along just fine. Cooking chili is a good place to find the answers you are looking for.”
I listened attentively because I wanted her voice to go on and on and never stop. After she finished explaining how to make chili, she asked me if I got it. I did. I understood. Life was not something I would find in books nor could I measure it out perfectly, and regardless it might come out differently depending on the conditions.
She closed her eyes for the last time.
Brenda Moguez—Walnut Creek, California
Picking Daffodils: A lesson in generosity (excerpt)
To pick a daffodil or a bouquet of daffodils for the neighbors, you only pick those that have been slanted by the wind. You place your fingers as close as you can to the earth, to where the stem begins, and the dirt gets in your fingernails, and you break it. But only those that have been slanted by the wind. Those that stand straight, it isn’t their time yet. Also, it is good to have diversity so look for yellow ones, white ones, small ones, big ones, double crown ones, even your favorite one that has fragrance and you want to keep only for yourself. It doesn’t matter that the neighbor calls them jonquils, and we call them daffodils. They are the same thing. Tulips are harder to get. Their stems stay strong despite the wind, and snowdrops and crocuses don’t last long outside of the soil. But daffodils, there is something about daffodils, a splash of bright color after a long winter placed on the dinner table, in the bathroom, on the night stand so that they are the first thing you see after shutting off the irritating alarm. This is what we do for our neighbors. We give them daffodils; we share what we have.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, my father was teaching me a lesson in generosity and community. It was something that we did every spring. At first, I felt obligated to do it—scowling while I picked daffodils, at times choosing the upright ones just for spite. But when I knocked on the doors of our neighbors and saw their large, appreciative smiles, I realized that something as small as giving a neighbor flowers from our yard was actually a large deed that could change someone’s day. As I grew older, I no longer needed prompting from my father; I would go out on my own accord and look for them. I loved the strong winds that allowed me to gather daffodils and give them away.
Heather Frankland–Lima, Peru