As I watched my granddaughter Kiele run toward the waves, I wanted to yell out to her "Watch out, darling, the waves can knock you over." But, I didn't. I walked quickly to her side and held her hand and helped her "jump" the big waves. She laughed and giggled and got a mouthful of salt water every now and then, but we both had fun.
Kiele takes after me. She's a "jump right in" girl. If something attracts her, she plows straight ahead into the adventure. A clean piece of paper automatically signals for a splash of paint – no planning, just splashing. Music on the stereo requires dancing – and we twirl and whirl in creative patterns – perhaps not in rhythm, but full of life.
When I was around Kiele's age – more than half a century ago – my mother was frustrated by a quirk in my personality. My piano teacher told Mom that I would never be a good pianist because I ignored the necessary fingering. Mom would sit by my side during my practice sessions and watch my fingers. Somehow, I always managed to get out the right notes, but with very strange finger contortions. After Mom saw that the tune was still the same, she stopped bugging me about fingering.
As I got older, my "jump right in" philosophy of life widened its grip on my personality. When my Girl Scout leader suggested that we try to earn 'uncommon" badges, she gave me permission to investigate areas heretofore off limits to most young girls in the 1950's. I did carpentry, astronomy, transportation, bowling, and archery. In the hunt for these badges, I exhausted my father and grandfather's patience. When the annual Badge Award Night took place, some of the mothers in attendance gasped at my achievement – or was it at my boldness?
Miss Eliza Jane Reese was my Home Economics teacher. She taught me how to sew and thought she was teaching me to cook, but I had already learned that from my grandparents. When we bought material for sewing projects, I got frustrated. Miss Reese forced us to evaluate the manner in which we would cut out the pattern we had chosen. Should we fold the material lengthwise or in a square? We should always pin the pattern on completely before we begin to cut.
In Home Economics class, I followed the rules because I did not want to incur Miss Reese's wrath. However, when I sewed at home, I broke all of her rules. I started cutting – sometimes without a pattern. Even the most expensive material did not scare me. I taught myself to see the shape of the garment in my mind and fit it to my body. Most times my method worked. The times it didn't, a dress became a skirt or a blouse, or – if the mistake was really huge – a scarf.
Cooking was another area for "jumping right in." To me, recipes are suggestions, not mandates. For some reason, my grandfather didn't believe in recipes much, either. He made great spaghetti sauce and I swear he never made it exactly the same way twice. My mom disliked cooking but she made great beef stew and apple pie. There was no recipe for those dishes until I forced her to sit down and write out the ingredients as she made them. To this day, I love being in the kitchen. It's more fun than playing with a chemistry set. And, I have a garbage disposal to correct my mistakes.
Other aspects of my life have been affected by my tendency to "fly by the seat of my pants." A good example is the way I taught. My senior class and I could be in the middle of reading Shakespeare when – all of a sudden- one of the kids would ask me a question about an unfamiliar word, such as 'cauldron'. Well, you know that the next day, a cauldron would automatically appear in my class and we would "cook" up a witches' brew just like the one in "Macbeth."
When I started teaching, I was hired as a junior high school English/Math substitute for half a year. My major was English and the farthest thing from my major was Math. The way I taught Math was simple. If I could understand it, so could the kids.
I learned best in the visual mode. We ate a lot of pizza during the section on fractions.
Mom always called me a "Jack of all trades, master of none." Part of the reason for that must be my "jump right in" way of life. I am honestly willing to try anything once. I learn from my mistakes and won't make the same one twice. There are a lot of new mistakes to make!
As I watch my grandchildren grow, my wish for them is that their lives are as happy and full of excitement as mine has been. Admittedly, I have become less risk-taking as I got older. However, the other day I created a new recipe for Vidalia onions. The garbage disposal loved it.
(IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANOTHER EDUCATION AND FAMILY TOPIC WITH DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: firstname.lastname@example.org  OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.)