A few days ago Betty, my amazing wife, and I were talking about the power of a parent's or grandparent's words on others. After my mom died I discovered several notebooks filled with recaps of vacation trips she and my dad had taken from 1996 until 2001. They included day trips, long weekend jaunts, weeks-long driving trips, and a few vacations overseas...all part of their satisfying retirement. Mom was a detail person: virtually every meal and every experience was recorded. Some were good, some bad, some just average daily events. But nothing escaped being recorded in her journals.
In reading them Betty and I were reminded of how much mom and dad loved to take road trips. They wouldn't let more than a month pass without a trip somewhere. I hadn't remembered their 6 week long driving excursion to the East coast and back home to Arizona through the deep south and Texas.
We also noted mom's health decline as each year passed: trouble walking because of numbness, then the transition to walkers, and eventually rarely getting out of the car. Trips to emergency rooms for heart problems or dizziness were recorded. At this time she was in her mid 70's, really too young for so many issues. But, as Betty and I talked about why she had slipped physically so fast we came to an important conclusion: she was at least partially a product of what her parents taught her.
My maternal grandparents did not believe in much physical exercise. Walking was to be avoided by ladies if other transportation was available. A cook and maid took care of household chores. Vacations never involved much exertion. While summers were often spend at their "farm" north of Pittsburgh, most of that time was spent sitting in easy chairs while talking or reading.
Apparently, my grandparents also had one firm rule that I believe directly contributed to my mom's health problems: they rarely drank water. The beverage was banned from the dining room table at all meals. Coffee was believed to provide the liquids needed to function. An occasional glass of wine or scotch and soda was just an added liquid bonus.
Living in Arizona for the last twenty some years of her life, mom continued to do as she was taught: avoid water. To survive in the desert water isn't a refreshing choice, it is essential to prevent serious dehydration. With an average humidity of less than 10% the human body loses hydration rapidly. Without replacing that liquid all sorts of health issues can occur. Team up that that parent-taught aversion to water with a belief that ladies didn't exercise or exert themselves and mom's too-soon physical problems were a foregone conclusion. Genetics certainly played a part in what happened to her, but I firmly believe her quality of life failed her at least a decade before it had to because of some "lessons" she learned from her parents.
Unfortunately, my father is following in some of her footsteps. After living with mom for 63 years, he adopted the same reluctance to drinking water. He simply refuses, except to swallow pills. When I try to remind him that certain problems he is encountering are likely related to dehydration he puts on his stubborn face and tells me his three small glasses of skim milk a day are plenty.
I remind him one of the reasons he had to give up his independent lifestyle and driving was due to several fainting instances, directly related to dehydration. He has digestive problems also tied to his fluid intake. Even so, he says water makes him full and he doesn't need it. He learned his lesson well from mom and isn't about to change now.
All of this is to make an important point: what we say and teach our children and grandkids can affect them for the rest of their lives. If they learn unhealthy eating and personal care habits, they will likely follow suit. If they see us doing what will help us live a happy, satisfying retirement the odds are good some of that will rub off.
We carry an important responsibility. Little eyes and ears (and not so little) are watching us. How we take care of ourselves, how we treat others less fortunate than us, and how we show love and affection are not actions performed in a vacuum. Teachers are not just in classrooms.
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