Monday, June 14, 2010

Five Decades of Lessons

Whenever I read something that has "blogworthy" potential, I file it electronically.  My file is growing.

When I read Thursday's Daily Good, published by Charity Focus, I immediately knew that the post's "Be the Change" directive to "reflect on the greatest lessons from each decade of your life" was going to be my blog topic this week.

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
Zora Neale Hurston

Decade One (1964-1973)

My family lived in three places within this decade:  Orange Park (because my dad was still stationed in the Navy at NAS Jacksonville; Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico (more Navy moving), and back in Orange Park as he completed his Navy obligation onboard the USS America, and retired toward the end of this decade.

The great lesson(s):  It was good for me to live in Puerto Rico.  Although it wasn't an exotic foreign locale, I was introduced to Spanish at a very young age (when it is easier to learn).  We also did not have English television in the daytime, so I had to go out and about.  I also vividly remember the spanking I got when I opened the Barbie I had been given, even though I knew it was a duplicate and I knew my parents planned to return it.  It was one of those seminal moments when I "got" the fact that my parents meant what they said.

Decade Two (1974-1983)

Saturday Night Fever to Big Hair.  Was that only one decade?  I lived two places in this decade:  Orange Park and Lake Butler (my parents' hometown, where we moved in 1979).  I recall how much I learned about music the week I was thrown into band camp along with the advanced flautists.  This phenomenon would happen in the next decade when I was the only non-native Spanish speaker in an advanced class.  It is also the decade when an adult authority figure made unwelcome advances, and I found myself in a car full of people I didn't know that well with a glove compartment full of marijuana, several towns away from my hometown.

The great lesson(s): Moving from a big place to a little place requires you to respect the history people share with each other; being the big fish in a small pond does not give you instant credibility, popularity, or status.  Secondly, that my parents believed me when I explained the inappropriate advances, and they took the phone call to come pick me up (no questions asked) when I did not want to partake in the marijuana smoking.  (It didn't help that it was drivers' ed summer and I had just been watching all those horrible, graphic driver education movies.)

Decade Three (1984-1993)

This decade involved being elected to the Homecoming Court at Florida State University, two "Challenge" bicycle/mission trips, the aforementioned challenging Spanish class, graduate school, almost three years in New York City, and getting married.  It ended on the worst of notes, when my sister in law Ann Kiger Paredes died in her sleep at age 30 (of Long QT syndrome, an undiagnosed congenital heart condition).

The great lesson(s):  Although I loved being on the Homecoming Court, I should not have actively campaigned for it.  Living in New York City taught me a whole different view of how  cultural background factors into people's perceptions of who I am (I had never before been asked, "what are you?" as in "are you Greek/Italian/Irish/etc.?").  It also taught me that in a city where people are literally from all around the globe, the basic things that make relationships tick among people are universal.  And .... when you total your car on I-95 and end up facing the oncoming traffic, it's not an especially good idea to open your door INTO the traffic. 

Decade Four (1994-2003)

This entire decade, I have been working at Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.  I also gave birth to Tenley (1996) and Wayne (1999).  When I talked recently to a friend whose daughter has two young kids and doesn't feel that she has time for "extras" because she is so laser focused on those kids, I explain how incredibly intense that period of parenting is, how physically, emotionally, and psychologically your entire self is given to those children. 

The great lesson(s): In the end, it really doesn't matter that your children have the matching designer outfits and the perfect "everything."  If I were raising a little child again, I would focus more on the sheer experience of spending time with him or her than on attempting to perfect the "look."  I would also defer a little bit throwing them into activity after activity, letting their interests unfold in a more natural way. 

Decade Five (2004-present)

It amazes me that I am over halfway through this decade.  When I disclosed to my husband recently the fear (that I consider irrational) that I am going to die before I get to do the things I most want to do (like use my passport), he said "we all feel that way."  By 2013, I will have one child a year away from college and another in high school.  It strikes me that by incorporating the things I love doing (writing, being involved in our local film school, running), I am somehow coming closer to my true self and therefore being more engaged with my family.  This has also been the decade of looking the debt monster in the eye and saying, "yes, we let you grow unchecked for far too long.  It is now time for us to slay you once and for all."

The great lesson(s): This lesson, I suppose, has extended itself over three decades.  When Ann died, I had just the night before chosen not to call her.  We had been buying her old townhome, and Wayne suggested I let her know that it had been painted (one of the financing conditions).  I said, "no, it can wait."  Would it have mattered that she knew the townhome was painted? No.  But it matters, in retrospect, that I didn't talk to her that night.  Sometimes a phone call or conversation about "nothing" is the one that matters most of all.

The Daily Good pieces always start with a quote.  The quote on the day that prompted this blog was also a "keeper":

The years teach much which the days never knew.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is there something that years have taught you that "the days never knew"?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section! 

And I'll "run" into you next week, readers!

1 comment:

Judy said...

This is such a thoughtfully written piece, Paula, and I really enjoyed looking at the pictures! It made me think about the milestones and learning experiences I've had, so thank you for that!