Roots and Branches: Life is a full-circle lesson

Life is a continuous circle of change. Celebrations tend to focus on beginnings and endings, albeit more than birth and death, but still intermittent benchmarks along that continuum. It is what happens in the continuum of change between those benchmarks that represents the richness of the journey.

The older one becomes, the more life lessons learned, which is why we turn to “elders” along the way to mentor us, sharing their wisdom to keep us from repeating past mistakes over and over again. You can be an elder at the age of 4, an older brother or sister who knows which things are No Nos in the house, or at 5, 10 or 15 when you can share with others how to behave in the school setting, or how to on the ball field, or in church. You can be an elder at any age, mentoring others in their life journey. We just need to tap into the elder’s wisdom sooner, when details of the lesson learned are sharply focused, recent in occurrence, and applicable in the current setting.

As a grandparent, some of the lessons I learned when parenting my children as infants, toddlers, tween, teens and now new and experienced parents are no longer applicable. In fact they are contrary to current practices. We didn’t have car seats when my kids were small. In fact, seat belts were just beginning to come into use by adults. Cribs and play pens were hand-me-downs from generations past, a nod to recycling, with no concern over lead-based paint or distance between the slats.

The new innovation during the 11-year span of my children’s infancies was mesh sides to a playpen, which I believe has now been outlawed given the number of little fingers that became entangled in the string and dropped off from lack of circulation. I recall untangling my toddlers’ fingers from the mesh, pink pudgy fingers sporting an odd bluish cast, unconcerned about the lack of circulation, proud of myself for having the new improved playpen, its soft sides preventing the head injuries that were documented from falling against bars or slats, or getting ones head stuck in the spaces. I used a front baby sling to carry my infant against my breast while I went about daily chores; those, too, now outlawed for suffocating infants.

We had hard plastic seats that we placed our babies in upon the counter or table top. Who would have thought that the wimpy plastic belts would break, or the brittle plastic that held the metal wires that served as the positioning legs would break, sending your infant to the floor head first?

We always placed our baby on their stomach, so if they should spit up, it would not run down their throat and suffocate them. We were told to rotate them frequently so they wouldn’t develop a flat spot on their skull that might restrict the formation of their brain. Breast milk had given way to formula. You were an old-school, stay-at-home mom supporting a “sexist pig” husband if you breast fed.

Times have changed. Now it is “Back to Sleep.” Breast feeding has come back into favor, although it too will circle out of favor again if we learn of a new formula that can prevent childhood diseases. If a baby should have a misshaped skull they pop a helmet on its head so it will form more evenly. But perhaps that, too, is no longer in vogue given the warp speed that science marches forward.

All of this underscores the importance of using mentors who have been trained in that which is most relevant in the current time, place and space that learners are functioning within.

Elders can be younger than those they are teaching. My children, even my grandchildren, have become my mentors in many current situations. They teach me how to secure an infant in a safely secured car seat that is appropriate for the weight, height and size of the child. This is at least a college-level course for me growing up when you could ride on the back “window seat” of a sedan. Plus I have the benefit of having one of the most dedicated, and accomplished car seat technicians in the state, Joella Dethman, sitting in the office adjacent to me.

I have learned different nutritional information based on when and what to introduce into the infant’s diet from my children, and was recently lectured by the 5-year-old about the new-sized portions of grains, fruits and vegetables for an adult’s optimal health.

I am sure I never heard the word optimal when I was 5, let alone been able to use it correctly. Out with the food pyramid, declared ancient history; in with the smaller dinner plate, different proportion of food groups and down-sized portions.

Education is evolving at the same mind-boggling speed as science. What we teach may not be as important as how we teach, and when we teach to get the best outcomes. The outcomes we are seeking evolve as well. Are we creating a better workforce, a better parent, a better leader, a better consumer?

All of this in a climate where information itself is proliferating astronomically and access to it is becoming incredibly easy. The most difficult factor at this point is determining what is factual, relevant and meaningful in the learning process.

How do we sort through information sites made to appear factual but meant to mislead? Determining true or false, with an occasional multiple choice, was about how complicated information got when I was a child. Not a lot of gray between the black and white. There was right and wrong, and little in between except excuses.

The older I got, the more complicated life became. I cannot fathom what it will be like for my grandchildren as they progress through life. I cannot mentor them in which information sites are valid, when I don’t even know where to find the ones they are exposed to. I am less technologically fluent than 5-year-old Cooper, his 3-year-old sisters, or 2-year-old Aya, all of whom are fluent in iPod and cellphone apps. They know who is calling by the music on the cellphone before they can read.

If I am to be a sage, an elder, a mentor, to those around me this would be the advice that I would share. Most of it I was taught by my father, probably because they didn’t have kindergarten when I started on my public education path.

Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Seek knowledge throughout your life.

Learn to embrace change as change is one of life’s constants.

Live as if this is your first and last moment.

Live long enough, and life will come full circle.

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