First and foremost, I would like to thank every last person who wrote to me on the loss of our pet recently. The column, of course, was less about the loss and more about life and the grace with which we aspire to live it. It was about my son who handled himself admirably, and who garnered an outpouring of affection for doing so.
A mother always appreciates compliments on her children and I thank you.
I do hope it will be duly noted, for the sake of modesty, that I have also written often of the very human foibles of my family. I hope never to imply that we are perfect. That seems the kind of karma almost guaranteed to result in a swift dive from whatever pedestal upon which you have placed yourself, and I have always been afraid of heights.
It’s a delicate balance when you presume to write about yourself. I have joked more than once that no one really wants to read about the minutiae of your life unless you are a member of the Royal Family or a Kennedy. Still, I write from the belief that most experiences are less all about me, you, or them — but are, in fact, all about US. I believe that our lives as a whole are more similar than not.
One writer in commending my son asked (flatteringly) “how do you raise a kid like that?”
Honestly? Prayer and pure dumb luck, but if I had to pick one parenting expert I look to above others, I’d say that you can keep your new-age experts and parenting via reality TV. I look to a more tried and true parenting guru. Namely “What would Jackie do?”
I find as I age that I look to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for parenting advice.
It may seem strange to have chosen an icon as a parenting guide. What, after all, do we have in common?
Plenty. We all strive to raise our children to be strong, ethical, and caring individuals. The wealthy don’t have a lock on that. In fact, judging by some well-to-do offspring, I think they fight an uphill battle.
It was said in her eulogy “Her two children turned out to be extraordinary, honest, unspoiled, and with a character equal to hers. And she did it in the most trying of circumstances. They are her two miracles.”
Years before I had children of my own, that message resounded with me. That, more than diamonds or a yacht, is the measure — and treasure — of a life.
Witness her attending a birthday party for her 3-year-old son just hours after her husband’s funeral. When my father’s death nearly undid me, it was the presence of my small children that made me get up and keep moving forward. Jackie’s example: Don’t wallow. Keep parenting. No excuses.
She is said to have sent her teenage son, a bona fide millionaire unlikely to ever need “ability to rustle cattle” on his resume (or to ever need a resume, actually), to spend the summer digging ditches at a dude ranch.
I think of this when I ponder that it might be easier to hire out some minor chore, or do it myself, rather than expect my children to take on the task.
I hear other parents say that their kids “aren’t being raised to dig ditches” so the ability to work with their hands is not necessary. From her example we can learn that none of us, regardless of background or future prospects, are too good to appreciate the value — and values — instilled by hard work.
Finally, there is almost unanimous agreement that Jackie and her children, no matter how stressed and besieged, showed impeccable grace and good manners, always.
While my own children are blessedly unlikely to be assaulted by the paparazzi, I don’t think having good manners and the grace to be kind are skills you will ever be SORRY you possess.
Manners are not just the dusty relics of white gloves and finger bowls. They are the social lubricant that makes almost any situation smoother and kinder. They are putting the needs and feelings of others above your own, even when you suspect your problems may be a tad bigger.
From her we learn that manners matter — no matter what.
Jackie was wealthy and I am not, by monetary standards anyway. Yet, I believe that it’s never a bad idea to show middle class children who live in sturdy homes, with benefit of education and good nutrition and a little left over for dance lessons and sports, that by the measure of many they do have wealth untold. With proper parenting and a lot of prayer, I hope they will also have the good sense to appreciate it.