Teaching Gumption

“Pull the dumbbell up like this,” I told her, “as if you are pulling the cord on a lawn mower.” I had borrowed this phrase from my trainer, because it accurately illustrates the movement I wanted her to perform. To this day I cannot start my lawnmower and not think of this move, and my trainer.

“My mom told me never to learn how to start a lawn mower so I would never have to mow a lawn,” she replied. “My husband takes care of that.”

Whaaa?!

Years ago I remember working in the bank and a recent widow came in, understandably bewildered by the many decisions and paperwork that comes with the death of a spouse. “My husband took care of our finances and gave me cash to spend for household items. I don’t know how to balance a checkbook…”

Jamie Oliver’s experiment with some U.S. schools a few years ago was shocking. He presented grade school children with a whole potato. Not one child could tell him what the object in his hand was. He did this with many fruits and vegetables, and other than just a couple of things (apples, I think) these kids didn’t recognize most produce in it’s whole form!

Why the rant today? Well, let me tell you.

I trained a 12 year old girl the other day who broke my heart. I was able to decipher through our conversation that she is a very young 12 and doesn’t know how to do much, simply because not much is expected of her. She is obese. She is no doubt made fun of by her peers. She was self conscious and insecure (more so than the average tween). When I asked her (and her mother) about the kinds of foods they eat, the mother laughed and said, “I don’t cook.” She said this as if it were beneath her, as well as something of which to be proud.

While training another client, I discovered that she hadn’t eaten anything all day, just her morning cup of coffee. It was 2:30pm! She doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t know what to do to make things quick in the morning, but yet cannot figure out why she has no energy, feels sluggish and cannot resist the afternoon treats her customers bring in to the office! For her, the thought of breakfast was an all or nothing proposition. It had to be a huge undertaking – bacon, pancakes, eggs, etc. We had a great conversation about how to not only eat breakfast everyday, make things quick (hello my favorite: hard boiled eggs!) but also to do what I call “easy prep” so things are grab and go through the week when time is more limited.

As a military spouse, being independent and having some gumption to even attempt to do things on my own is essential. Granted, I grew up with a mother who worked right along side my father building houses. She hammered just as many nails, installed can lights, laid tile flooring and everything in between.  Even now, my parents are building a structure on their property and my mother literally raises the walls with my father. I get that not everyone has that example to follow, and it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the some of the mindsets I’ve described.

Here’s the thing; regardless of what we’ve been exposed to, if we neglect to teach our children how to perform basic tasks, essential life skills, how are they ever going to learn? School?! Not likely. It’s unrealistic to think that school should, or even could, cover everything. That’s our job as parents. We do our kids a great disservice by doing everything for them. Feeding ourselves and taking care of our bodies is a basic skill. We teach our kids how to use a fork and spoon as toddlers, why wouldn’t we teach them how to prepare food when they are older?

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Give a child a fish, and you’ll feed her for a day. Teach a child to fish, and you’ve fed her for a lifetime.”
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