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    Thirty by 30: Installment Four

    April 30, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I wrote earlier in this series about modesty. I didn’t realize that I used the word so much around here. Actually, I think I only use it on Sundays, when little girls have to learn to keep their bloomers up and their dresses down. That has apparently been enough for A. to pick up on the word. Last week, she brought me a gorilla, which was, of course, unclothed.

    It was a wild gorilla.

    So anyhow, she apparently thought it was a man, and brought it to me saying, “Mommy, he need be modest.” She knew the word, but had a hard time getting it out. So she practiced by saying this twice. Finally, I explained to her that the toy was a small gorilla, not a man. She instantly threw it across the room, declaring that he was “scawy” {scary} and was going to get her.

    She thinks everything is going to get her.

    On with the list!

    1. You become what you are practicing to be. Have you ever had delusions about what you will be in the future? I have. When I first began college, I was a voice major {you know, singing}. Due to some health issues, I ended up changing my major. It is hard to practice operatic singing when you keep losing your voice. Oh, and your voice coach is pushing you to sing anyhow, when your doctor is telling you that could ruin your voice for life.

      But one thing I really remember is that my coach once pointed at one of the senior singers. Her voice was gold. He said, if you want to sing like that, you practice every day.

      Singers practice singing. Runners practice running. I know, for instance, that I will never be a marathon runner because I have never practiced running on purpose. I rarely practice running on accident.

      This is also true of negative character qualities. How does a person become a liar? He tells a lie today, and then again tomorrow, and soon he has practiced telling enough lies that he is, without doubt, a full-fledged liar. I find myself asking myself if I am practicing negative qualities. Do I practice being a slob? Do I practice being cruel? Angry? Rude? Insensitive? If I don’t want to be these things, I shouldn’t practice them.

      I try to view the things I want to be better at this way. I no longer take the giant plunge and get in over my head. Instead, I try to practice slow baby steps.

      So when I think about what I want to be when I am turning, forty, I have to look at what I am now, and decide what I need to practice between now and then to accomplish that goal.

      Reminds me of Charlotte Mason. She said that education was, in many ways, the building of habits. And I suppose, as adults, we are educating ourselves. Mason wrote:

      [T]he actual conformation of the child’s brain depends upon the habits which the parents permit or encourage; and that the habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on for ever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’ ‘He’ll know better by-and-by,’ ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’ and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.

      Every day, I am becoming what I am practicing to be.

    2. Sometimes, you have to let some things go. We all have our silly vanities. I, for one, used to take much pride in consistently writing thank-you notes. I am terrible at remembering birthdays and other special events {though I recently programed my computer to remind me, since I am trying to build new habits this year}, but thank you notes were something I was good at.

      This year, something happened…

      Morning-noon-and-night sickness.

      It struck right around the time I needed to throw Q.’s first birthday party. I barely made it through that party, and I completely forgot about the thank you notes until they would have been embarrassingly late. At the same time that I remembered, I was still feeling quite ill, and A.’s third birthday party was upon us.

      So I decided to just forget it. Forget writing the cards. Forget the other piles of things undone. I was choosing to start afresh.

      This is probably an important contrast to the above. We have to balance practicing being the kind of person we want to be with the fact that we are not perfect, life is not perfect, and sometimes health and finances have a compelling interest in disrupting our habit-building.

      After A.’s birthday party, I knew writing individual cards was still going to be a challenge. I was feeling better, but I was also feeling the pressure of keeping up with my primary tasks like cooking, cleaning, schooling, etc. There wasn’t much energy leftover. So I decided, that day, to send out an e-card thank you to all the guests. In one way, I feel this was tacky, in another I feel that not acknowledging them at all was my only other option.

      E.’s birthday is coming up. I am a bit better than I was during the winter birthdays, and I also have the advantage of E. being old enough to be of significant help in making the cards. So we will start anew with his birthday, and only occasionally will I look back in shame.

      So, sometimes, we have to let things go and start over.

    3. Baking soda is a girl’s best friend. This might not sound like a life-lesson to you, but it certainly has revolutionized my daily cleaning routines! Let me explain. I have a limited wardrobe. And I have been devastated more than once because I used a cleaning product that stained my shirt. And I was cleaning in a decent shirt because I wasn’t deep cleaning. I was doing maintenance.

      Baking soda is the answer, my friends.

      Baking soda can be used to scour that pot that has something stuck to it. It can cleanse a kitchen sink. It has been a lifesaver for cleaning the bathtubs in our home.

      We have those fiberglass bathtub/shower combinations that come in one big piece. They are textured in the tub area, which serves the purpose of a sort of built-in anti-slip mat. However, that textured area collects grime in the tiny hole, and I have tried everything to make it look clean, but to no avail.

      Until I met Mr. Baking Soda.

      For whatever reason, baking soda and a good scrubber gets our shower looking cleaner than any other product I’ve ever used. And it’s nontoxic, which is good for sensitive children.

      Baking soda can replace chlorine in a swimming pool. It can help your bread rise. It is like the secret magic wand I’ve been waiting for.

      So, yes, baking soda can be a life lesson.

    Installment One
    Installment Two
    Installment Three

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  • Reply Jennifer May 1, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I can’t wait to use baking soda on stuff around my house. I have wasted three minutes of my quiet time trying to think about what needs a good baking soda scrub. But my legs won’t move from the chair.

  • Reply Kansas Mom May 1, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I also love baking soda! My daughter has a very sensitive gag reflex. That means whenever she has a cold (which is often since she’s in day care two days a week), she throws up. Multiple times. Baking soda is the ONLY thing that gets the smell out. We’ve used it on clothes, carpets, car seats, booster seat straps…the list goes on and on. Now whenever there’s something that just doesn’t seem clean, the first thing we do is soak it overnight in baking soda and water!

  • Reply Brandy April 30, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    I had no idea it would help with linen stains! I will have to keep that in mind. Thanks for the tip. It really is magic.

    One of the things I have noticed with children is not just how much is taught, but how much is taught by default. What I mean is, what they pick up or decide to become because I neglected to instruct them otherwise. I never taught them to build the negative habit, but by not building the corresponding positive habit, I’m doing them a disservice.

    And, of course, the same goes for me. I, if I am not working towards building or maintaining my positive habits, can quickly degenerate into vice and chaos!

  • Reply Rahime April 30, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Baking soda is my best friend too. It’s amazing how well it works for so many things. I use it often to gently soak stains out of the vintage linens I love.

    Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.

    reminded me of a series of conversations I’ve witnessed between one of ‘Chung’s nephews and his mom. The first was when he was around 2. We were having a big family dinner for something, Chinese New Year, I think, and he decided to loudly yell “poop” several times. When his other auntie gently asked him not to use language like that at the dinner table (or anywhere just for the fun of it) his mom turned to her and said, “Oh, it’s ok, he doesn’t even really know what he’s saying, he’ll grow out of it.” Proceed 1 1/2 years later. We were at a larger family event recently, and nephew is watching from inside the house another child who might potentially play with one of his toys. He’s chanting “I don’t want to share my ball, I don’t want to share my ball…”. His mom giggles and replies, “I understand you don’t want to share your ball, it’s ok, you don’t have to share it.”

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