This week, I was interviewed by a subject near and dear to me. It was my youngest son, a.k.a. The Cub. “Mom,” he said, plopping down at the dining room table where I was puzzling, “I have to interview you.” When my eyebrows inched north toward my hairline, he quickly finished. “It’s for sociology class.”
This particular kid was the caboose at the end of our crazy train. Now 16, he was a whisker away from a driver’s license, taking us with him on one, last pass through the school system.
“Sociology: Becoming An Adult – Interview,” it said at the top of his paper. And below it, this instruction, “Please interview one of your parents or other elders.”
He started in. “What was your first job/profession? How old were you?”
In the snap of my long, thin fingers, I was back in a hot, steamy kitchen. It was my first day of high school and the first day of my first job, washing dishes at a restaurant. I had just turned 14.
All through high school and beyond, I worked at the Dutch Kitchen, moving up to waiting tables. It was hard work. Dealing with the public, I learned, could be a tricky thing. Some were grumpy and demanding. There were poor tippers and no-tippers, and then there was the customer who pulled her false teeth out of her purse and clapped them into her mouth right over her plate of fried chicken. But while some folks were difficult, there were many more who were sweet, and they became friends by sitting at my table.
That first job taught me how to work for a boss and keep him happy. It taught me the importance of responsibility, punctuality, and teamwork. I experienced the satisfaction of earning a paycheck and saving money.
All of this flashed through my mind as I dutifully answered the question. Then came another. “How did you prepare for adult roles and responsibilities?”
I thought for a moment, and then I told him this, “By learning how to work at home.” Growing up in Plain circles, i.e. Mennonite, that valued hard work, we were made to participate in household chores at an early age. We cleaned the house. We folded clothes. We baked and cooked and washed the dishes.
I spent hours in the basement as a girl, ironing my father’s shirts and pants and our homemade dresses. When our grandmother babysat us, we shelled peas under her watchful eye. Every summer, we had Corn Day at Aunt Becky’s house. We shucked corn and brushed ears by the bushel. At lunch, we ate hot, buttered corn on the cob ‘til we were stuffed, then went back to shucking, brushing, and trying to elude the laser eyes of our mothers for some play time with the cousins.
I fussed and complained about all of it. All these years later, though, I am thankful for what I learned. Both the practical skills and the ability to work hard have been of great benefit in the running of my own household. And just like I did, my own children balked and complained, yet when the biggest complainer left home, he said, “Mom, thank you for teaching me how to work.”
The next question made me pause. “When did you first feel like an adult?”
After thinking for a bit, I settled on this. “When I took out a loan for my first car.”
Thanks to that first job, I had the money to pay it off, but my parents advised me to take out a loan for half of it in order to establish some credit. Meeting with a banker and learning about interest rates and monthly payments certainly felt like adult business to me, and this 5-foot prairie girl felt 10-feet tall. It was a red-letter day.
“What are the two to three most significant events in your life?” With little hesitation I told him. “Getting married and having children.” For any other accomplishments of mine pale in comparison to these two things. My greatest, most lasting legacy, I knew, would be these people I have loved and am gifting to their Creator and to the world. These treasures alone made me the richest woman I knew, and I was grateful.
“Name two to three of your most significant challenges.” Goodness, but the kid was playing hardball. I thought back over my life. There had been many challenges and some fiery trials for sure. Oddly enough the first thing that came to me was the examination of my beliefs.
Sifting through my core beliefs was hard, unsettling work, but in holding everything up to God’s Word, Truth’s standard, I found freedom. When I was done, my faith was my own. I had come through the fire, and I now possessed a strength, resolve, and peace for which my younger self could only have hoped.
The last question refused to be answered quickly. “What is your main concern with adolescents today, specifically as they transition into adulthood?”
After reflecting, the answer came. “That they are being raised with a solid foundation of truth and love.” Truth without love breeds rebellion, and love without truth turns children into little gods, a weight no one can bear.
As I write this column, I feel such a longing to see all children raised with these two graces. Upon these pillars, strong characters are built. Happy, confident adults emerge like butterflies from the cocoon, and their wings are well equipped for the flight. May it be so in my home. May it be so in yours.
As always, may God bless America and all of His children everywhere.