Posted in Culture/History, Essay, General Interest, Priscilla Galasso

Model Behavior

I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.

 Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.

 I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.

 Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?

 When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.

Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.

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© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Author:

I began this blog when I entered my 50th year of life. I have always enjoyed writing and taking photographs. My sister did a profound personal photo project the year she was turning 50, so once again, I followed in her footsteps, taking her idea and doing it my way. My life has changed dramatically in recent years, and I have changed with it. My husband died, my kids moved out, I sold our home and moved in with a tall, dark Scorpio. I suppose I have a lot to process, and I'm sure there will be more.

12 thoughts on “Model Behavior

  1. As the children of a working single mom, my brother and I were latch-key kids. We learned self-sufficiency and independence pretty early. I think the world has changed so much since the time of family farms and the family “unit”. The world is a LOT faster now, not just with the invention of the internet (which is a biggie), but our focus as a society has become more consumeristic, as you pointed out. We (at least the First World countries) seem to value things over people, nowadays, and that is NOT a good thing.

    We live faster because we can afford to. I partially blame our success for our collective amnesia/laziness. Instead of learning how to create things which will “last” (durability), or make things last, for that matter (frugality), so many of us can simply buy a new one when the old one wears out. There are so many more (greedy and corrupt) corporations in this country than there used to be. I believe that affluence perpetuates mindless consumerism and that poverty creates a more mindful consumption. So I would say that the model depends largely on one’s place in the caste system. True, there are always exceptions, but in working at a university, I have noticed a large portion of the student population has an “entitled” mindset.

    In an attempt to make certain that their children were well provided for and had everything they could possibly want (as opposed to and in addition to need), the parents became enablers. Most parents want to see their children happy and successful…but there seems to be a disconnect between understanding the difference between “want” and “need”…and those lines have and continue to become more and more blurred. After all, how can a parent in good conscience deny his/her child the latest I-Phone when the parent *has* to have it? Sorry to ramble on…you’ve raised some good points in this post.

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  2. Camping in the wilds! A good way for young children to be taught self reliance and ‘industry’: learning how to light a fire, safely; learning how to live without any communication with the outside world; no social media, texting, phone calls, no luxuries; learning how to read nature and, maybe, learning how to live off her bounty! A reminder of how much we take for granted.

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  3. Where there is loss, there may be a balancing gain? But I wonder, truly wonder what we have lost in family connectedness, the strength of the family unit and, in consequence, a cohesion of the wider community, all of which is a direct result of our greater mobility to travel greater distances, not only physically (as I did too much when my children were at their most impressionable) but also digitally. Computers have connected us in a way we would barely have imagined in the 50’s, but, in spite of fact I have ‘met’ and got to ‘know’ many lovely and talented people around the world as a result of the World Wide Web, I still believe, as I suspect you do too, Priscilla, that something fundamental has been lost to the family as a result of these social and cultural changes.

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    1. It’s an eerie feeling to suspect that something important is beginning to ebb away, isn’t it John?. I suppose we will not know for another 20 years what the real effect of these changes will be. Science fiction warning stories keep coming to mind, though.

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  4. This is spot-on, Priscilla. Made me think of a short story by Jumpa Lahiri about what happened to a couple that was without power for a few days. Sorry I can’t remember the name but it’s used a lot in University lit classes.

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    1. I looked up the author and found her Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories is called “Interpreter of Maladies”. Is the story you’re thinking of one of those?

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  5. Thank you, Priscilla for this thoughtful, caring piece. I do think resourcefulness was something that previous generations had to rely on. I find it hard to relate to the fact that children these days wear the uniform of designer brands and have their own mobile phones and ipads! I just don’t know how they would cope if, for some reason, the lights went out and food became scarce. Let’s hope it never happens.

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  6. Thanks for your comment, Liz. The way our society lives together keeps evolving, and it seems to be getting faster and harsher, in my opinion. I watch families and school children at the museum where I work and find that they have a hard time slowing down and listening to others, including each other. The ones who do pay attention are so remarkable that they stand out.

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  7. What a thoughtful essay. I remember 1982. We had a huge snow storm for this mid-western city. They could barely cope. I went to work and remained there for four days, sort of working all kinds of shifts. I loved it. Of course I grew up in Vermont where snow was a toy. I actually think that we learn what we need to learn in order to live as a society, so I believe that to be true of others. That is, if the television isn’t the house baby sitter.

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