Think and Integrity were two words ingrained into my mind all through my Freshman year in High School. They were written neatly in thick, black marker on two oversized note cards and posted in the upper right and left corners of the chalk board. Yes, I said it, chalk board. My kids say that is what the teachers used in the “olden days”. When I think of the olden days I think of Little House on the Prairie, and so it goes.
It was my Freshman English teacher, Mrs. Nekola, who first introduced me to the true meaning of think and integrity. She said if we never remembered anything else from her class we were to always remember these words. Mrs. Nekola was the type of teacher that you listened to, so I wrote “think” and “integrity” at the top of the first page of my spiral notebook. It would come to be filled with notes on Beowulf and grammar exercises, but these words were the two most important things I would ever write that year.
Think and Integrity. It was what was expected of us, in black and white. There was no grey area with Mrs. Nekola, she believed that we had the ability to succeed and made sure that we delivered. Though her methods were not typical, she called us “Sista” (loudly) when she was trying to get our attention and make a point. If you yawned in class, she called you out (again, loudly). Rarely did she end a class without saying “Be kind your mothers.” There was never a whisper in her class, we did our homework and studied for our tests and did it because that was what she expected.
A bit traumatic to our 14-year-old selves, perhaps but looking back it set the tone for the years to come. These methods had purpose; they taught us that we were accountable for ourselves and our actions. If she had put all of this effort into preparing for class then we were going to respect her time and put all of our effort into learning what was put before us. It stands true today as well, everyone’s time is valuable, no matter who you are.
I have to say that I wonder if I had held myself to that type of standard in my everyday life, where would I be right now? Would I have stayed the course more and given up less? If we expect more will we really get more?
I think that, maybe, we are afraid to have expectations, fearing that they will not be met. Have we come to the point that we cannot expect more from others (and ourselves) because we may (gasp) offend someone? Now, I’m not talking about ridiculous, unattainable standards but ones that we should be able to meet. A few come to mind:
• Do what you said you are going to do.
• Show up.
• Clean up your mess.
• Say you’re sorry if you hurt someone.
Now this does not mean that you become a drill sergeant, causing your friends to run at the sight of you and your children to cower if they spill their milk. No. It requires balance and some laughter because everyone has the right to mess up. They also have the right to be forgiven for it.
I find myself (more so these days than at the beginning of the summer) asking my children, in a slightly raised voice, “What were you thinking?” With that they stare at me blankly and I realize they were not. So then I go into my rendition of why they can’t do what they were just doing, hoping that something sinks in. All the books tell me that it is a process, it sure is.
Their little brains are developing every day, they are succeeding and learning. They are falling short and learning. That is what we, as parents, help facilitate. The integrity portion has proven to be a bit more difficult, I know that you can’t truly teach that. Sure you can give them “The Golden Rule” and tell them right from wrong but where they really get it is from watching you.
In all of the seriousness of Mrs. Nekola’s class there were also times of laughter. She had the ability to laugh at herself, which is invaluable. One time she was cleaning her glasses and instead of getting clearer they became more streaked than before. All of a sudden she realized she was using those new “fan dangled” tissues with lotion. Shaking her head and smiling broadly she looked up at all of us as if to say, “It’s ok to join in on this, it’s funny.”
With all of these “Great Expectations” that I am speaking of, I cannot fail to add that we also need to remember to laugh at ourselves. I was sitting with my family at the dinner table the other night and we were having quite a lovely conversation about going back to school and what fall would bring, when my youngest just blurted out “Did you know that everyone farts?” Silence. Our rule at the table is no potty talk and it is grounds for an immediate end to the offender’s dinner and banishment to their room. I began to explain to him how that was inappropriate when my husband burst into laughter, followed by all three children. Immediately I saw that I had lost this battle and figured I just had to let it go. (I mean if I was a child I would think that was funny too but it doesn’t say much about my husband’s sense of humor).
So how did Mrs. Nekola find that balance, the high expectations along with having a sense of humor? Only now, twenty-six years later, have I figured it out. It’s a simple answer. She had the ability to let the things that didn’t really matter just slide and focused on what did count. And those things, to this day are what allow me to lay my head on my pillow at night and think “Yes, I did mess up today (some days bigger than others) but all in all I can say when it really counted, I made the right choices.”
I wish my children could meet Mrs. Nekola and hear her famous sayings but I don’t think it would mean as much to them as it does to me. My memories will never really give the impact that I desire. They will have their own “Mrs. Nekola”, a teacher that makes such a difference in their lives that they too will remember stories twenty-six years later. A figure that will influence decisions and direct their paths causing them to be grateful for the hard work they endured. And hopefully they will also remind them to “be kind to their mothers.”