Growing up in the ’50s the first thing I remember learning is “waste not, want not.” This meant cleaning your plate at every meal. If that wasn’t enough and you asked for another helping, you had better be able to finish that, too.
The same thing went for things we owned, such as clothing. I was always one for taking off my sweater or jacket and dropping it on the ground. I’d be playing somewhere until I got tired, then I’d walk home. Of course, my sweater or jacket would still be lying it on the ground.
Upon going home, my mother would ask me where my sweater or jacket was; I’d just shrug my shoulders and said I didn’t know. This drove Mom nuts; at the time she was divorced and had to work to support us. Her salary barely covered gas, food and clothing, so losing a sweater or jacket was a big deal.
Mom, frustrated with my inability to come home with the clothes I went out in, told me that if I lost one more thing, she would take all my clothes and give them away to the ragman. Of course, that went right over my head, and the next day I came back minus my jacket.
“That’s IT!” shouted my mother. She told me to take off my clothes, and told me to get in bed. Then she started pulling my clothes out of my closet and drawers. I then realized that she wasn’t fooling around and that she really was going to give all my clothes to the ragman.
I started crying and said to my mother, “how am I going to go to school with no clothes?” She said, “well, I guess you can’t go to school then!” Which really made me cry because I had been looking forward to going to first grade. I sobbed even harder. I finally fell asleep, mourning the fact that I would never get to go to school.
When I woke up the next morning, all of my clothes were back in my closet and drawers. I got dressed and washed my face and brushed my teeth. I never lost another article of clothing again, and I did finally go to school.
Now in these days where every kid gets an award for just showing up, Mom would have been declared a monster and a terrible mother. Not so—in those days when I grew up parents parented to the max. They wanted us to be ready to live in the world and be able to take care of ourselves. When we screwed up, we were called on it. If we broke the rules, we paid for it. If we wanted something, we worked for it.
Call me crazy, but growing up that way made me a better (and smarter) person. By the time I left the house of my parents for good, I was ready to be out in the world. Of course I made the usual rookie mistakes, but I learned from them. I had been raised to live on my own, so that when the time came for me to be kicked out of the nest, I was good to go.
It certainly isn’t my place to tell people how to raise their kids. I know that for me, anyway, I had parents who made sure that I could survive on my own. I am ever grateful to them.